By Claudia Assis
Analysts recommend 'selective profit-taking' in the U.S. airline sector
It was "housekeeping" day for JPMorgan analysts covering U.S. airlines, who on Wednesday downgraded their ratings on shares of JetBlue Airways Corp., United Airlines Holdings Inc., and Spirit Airlines Inc. to the equivalent of sell on valuation concerns.
"What began as a simple housekeeping response to disappointing but unsurprising (fourth-quarter) demand trends has, instead, become a recommendation for selective profit-taking," the analysts said.
JetBlue (JBLU) is likely to continue to control costs, but the downgrade reflects "a lack of expected upside" to the analysts' price target of $14.
Lack of upside as compared with JPMorgan's $25 price target also led to Spirit's (SAVE) downgrade. The company entered a "maturation phase" in 2018, with a new pilot contract and "disciplined" growth.
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The pandemic, however, "has materially impacted the company's profitability alongside the industry broadly. Overall, our underweight rating at Spirit reflects the lack of significant expected upside relative to our price target," they said.
United (UAL), also downgraded on valuation, "can endure the current downturn with sufficient liquidity," the JPMorgan analysts said, tacking on a price target of $44.
United has "turnaround momentum heading into the crisis and its inherent guidance conservatism, which has historically reduced risk of earnings misses," the analysts said.
With the downgrades, JetBlue, Spirit and United join American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) and Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV)as JPMorgan's sell-rated airlines stocks. Alaska Air Group Inc. (ALK) and Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) remain rated the equivalent of buy, with implied upside around 30%, the analysts said.
Airlines have seen demand fall off a cliff with the pandemic, and U.S. carriers cut flights, scrapped aircraft ahead of schedule and received billions of dollars in bailout money to preserve jobs.
Several airlines have raised the alarm about fourth-quarter demand, with United late last week, saying it expects quarterly revenue to be down "close to 70%" year-on-year. ()
The airline said it continues to see "a significant impact in demand" for air travel, with a continued slowdown in future bookings as a result of the spike in COVID-19 and travel restrictions in the U.S. and in many other countries, despite vaccine optimism.
The U.S. Global Jets ETF (JETS) has lost 29% this year, contrasting with gains around 14% for the S&P 500 index.
-Claudia Assis; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 16, 2020 12:53 ET (17:53 GMT)
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