By Tomi Kilgore, MarketWatch
Airline stocks suffered a broad selloff Tuesday after Boeing Co. Chief Executive David Calhoun provided a dire outlook for the industry which included a prediction that a “major” bankruptcy was likely in the next several months.
In an interview aired on NBC’s “Today” show early Tuesday, host Savannah Guthrie asked Calhoun if he believed a major U.S. carrier will go out of business when the payroll support program under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act ends in September.
“I don’t want to get too predictive on that subject,” Calhoun said. “But yes, most likely, something will happen when September comes around.”
He said he believed airline traffic levels won’t be back to even 25% in September, and “maybe” only approach 50% by the end of the year, with a return to pre-COVID-19-pandemic levels not likely for three to five years.
The U.S. Global Jets exchange-traded fund /zigman2/quotes/207744796/composite JETS -3.89% tumbled 4.3% to $12.68, reversing a gain of as much as 1.4% earlier in the session, to the lowest close since April 3. Of the ETF’s 34 components, 30 lost ground.
Among the Jets ETF’s more-active components, shares of American Airlines Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL -6.95% sank 4.5%, Delta Air Lines Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -5.03% declined 4.5% and United Airlines Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL -7.55% slid 5.1%.
Among shares of other major carriers, as defined by those that are components of the Dow Jones Transportation Average /zigman2/quotes/210598063/realtime DJT -1.15% , Southwest Airlines Co. /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV -3.76% fell 3.3%, JetBlue Airways Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU -4.63% lost 5.8% and Alaska Air Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200972303/composite ALK -2.64% gave up 5.3%.
Elsewhere, Spirit Airlines Inc.’s stock /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE -5.47% was knocked 7.3% lower, Hawaiian Airlines parent Hawaiian Holdings Inc. shares /zigman2/quotes/203188135/composite HA -4.70% gave up 5.1% and Mesa Air Group Inc. stock /zigman2/quotes/201991362/composite MESA -3.87% was down 7.9%.
Guthrie also asked Boeing’s /zigman2/quotes/208579720/composite BA -4.81% Calhoun what he thought of Warren Buffett’s recent negative call on the airline industry in which the billionaire investor said he sold off his large stakes in American, Delta, United and Southwest.
Calhoun said that while he doesn’t share Buffett’s longer-term view, he does share the short-term view, but his short-term doesn’t mean just a few months.
“I believe it’s three years before we return to the traffic levels that we had just in 2019, and then probably another two before we begin to return to the growth rates that we used to have,” Calhoun said.
His view of time to full recovery was a little longer than many are expecting.
Cowen analyst Helane Becker said of those responding to the firm’s travel survey, 52% expect a U-shaped recovery for the industry, with 37% expecting a return to 2019 levels in 2-to-3 years, 25% expecting a full recovery in 3-to-4 years and just 12% expecting a recovery in more than 4 years.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly had said earlier this month that he believed the bottom was hit in April, a sentiment echoed last week by JetBlue Chief Operating Officer Joanne Geraghty.
Boeing stock taken a beating this year, as the airplane maker has suffered a double-dose of trouble from an extended grounding of its 737 MAX planes after accidents and reduced plane demand from airlines suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has recently said it plans to resume production this year of the 737 MAX planes at a low rate, and gradually increase the production rate. Read more about Boeing’s first-quarter results.
The Jets ETF has plunged 59.8% year to date. In comparison, Boeing shares have plummeted 61.6%, the Dow transports has tumbled 26.6% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -1.51% has shed 16.7%.