American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) shares have somewhat stabilized over the past week and a half after a nosedive beginning in mid- to late-September brought the stock down approximately 30%. That plunge qualifies for what JPMorgan airline analyst Jamie Baker calls the “down 30 in 30” trade—purchasing shares of airlines whose stocks have declined 30% within a period of 30 days. Historically, that trade has offered rich returns, which is why Baker sees the sell-off as a huge buying opportunity. Last week, he raised his price target on the stock to $53, according to Barron’s, implying a 64% upside from Tuesday’s close.
American Airlines’ Nosedive
|American Airlines||- 37.8%|
|S&P 500||- 2.5%|
Source: CNN Money, as of 4 p.m. EST 10/23
What It Means
Over the past two decades, there have been twenty separate occasions where American Airlines shares have quickly plummeted 30%, including the most recent drop. In the subsequent 180 days following those drops, the company’s shares rebounded dramatically, offering maximum returns averaging 72%.
Such occurrences are not uncommon for the airline industry. Since 1993, shares of United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL) and the former Continental Airlines, which merged with UAL six years ago, have experienced over two dozen 30% falls that resulted in average maximum returns of 103% over the next 180 days.
Analysts’ Sky High Targets for American
$32.38 4 p.m. close
$53 JPMorgan price target
Baker explains these dramatic gains by arguing that airline stocks tend to sell-off quickly for trivial reasons, citing the 2006 liquids ban and 2014 Ebola scare as examples. When sell-offs are supported by more substantial reasons, like United Continental’s growth plan raising worries of overcapacity in the industry, they tend to be overdone, according to Barron’s.
While the rising cost of jet fuel—up 38% over the past year—and the fallout from hurricane Florence back in September will hurt the company’s third quarter results, Baker is ultimately optimistic about the stock’s ability to rebound. He’s not the only one.
Cowen & Company analyst Helane Becker argues that, despite the hurricane, American’s revenue growth for the quarter appears relatively healthy. While Becker does worry about the rising cost of jet fuel hitting the airline’s profits, she is still relatively bullish, with a price target of $46, implying an upside of 42%.
Another risk that could hit the airline industry as a whole is a global trade war. Airline revenues are closely linked to imports and exports, which means a trade war causing international trade to slowdown is likely to take a toll on those revenues. American Airlines is slated to announce third quarter results on Thursday, which will provide a crucial signal to investors trying to determine whether revenue is still growing or on the decline.