How High Can This Airline Stock Fly?

I'm a believer in growth stocks. As an analyst for our Motley Fool Rule Breakers service, I think you should be a believer, too. But even I have to admit some growth stories are bogus, hence this regular series. We'll be taking a closer look at many of the market's great growth stocks to see which of them show real, numerically relevant signs of sustainability.

Next up is Allegiant Travel (Nasdaq: ALGT  ) , an "11 O'Clock Stock" pick made by my Rule Breakers teammate Sean Sun. His thesis is simple: Allegiant faces virtually zero competition in the markets it serves.

Whereas Southwest (NYSE: LUV  ) and JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU  ) fight over business customers in major U.S. business routes -- think L.A., New York, Chicago, D.C., etc. -- Allegiant serves pleasure travelers in less-accessible areas.

Foolish facts

Metric

Allegiant Travel

CAPS stars (5 max)

**

Total ratings

198

Percent bulls

78.3%

Percent bears

21.7%

Bullish pitches

24 out of 29

Highest rated peers

Cathay Pacific Airways, Southwest Airlines, Deutsche Lufthansa AG

Data current as of Sept. 18.

Fools have become more bullish since Sean's pick, but there remain plenty who've been bearish for years yet refuse to close out their losing picks. Top stock picker goldminingXpert wrote in August 2008 that Allegiant was "pricey for an airline" and maintains an underperform ratings in CAPS to this day.

Maybe Allegiant was expensive two years ago, but I don't see that now. This is a profitable carrier trading for 10.4 times next year's average earnings estimate -- roughly in the same range as low-cost peers Southwest and JetBlue, which trade for 12.2 and 9.3 times 2011 estimates. The difference? Allegiant is growing faster and more efficiently. Management is also repurchasing shares.

The elements of growth

Metric

Last 12 Months

2009

2008

Normalized net income growth

(10.2%)

118.4%

12.1%

Revenue growth

14.4%

10.7%

39.8%

Gross margin

30.4%

34.8%

22.7%

Receivables growth

20.8%

34.1%

(38.6%)

Shares outstanding

20 million

19.8 million

20.3 million

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

There's mostly good news in this table. Let's review:

  • First, the past 12 months seem like anomaly compared to earlier trends. Normalized net income was growing massively -- and faster than receivables -- just as margins were rising. All three metrics have since reversed themselves.
  • Yet, I don't see this as a big issue, if only because return on capital remains above 20%. There are software companies that have a hard time achieving ROC that good.
  • And it's because of management's record with allocating capital that I'm confident a stock repurchase will create value for shareholders.

Competitor and peer checkup

Competitor

Normalized Net Income Growth (3 years)

Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK  )

36.1%

Allegiant Travel

43.5%

Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL  )

14.4%

JetBlue Airways

80.5%

SkyWest (Nasdaq: SKYW  )

(18.2%)

Southwest

(17.8%)

US Airways (NYSE: LCC  )

(54.1%)

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, current as of Sept. 18.

This table may be somewhat misleading. Alaska Air and JetBlue have seen inconsistent revenue growth, and Delta reorganized itself in bankruptcy before merging with Northwest Airlines.

Allegiant, by contrast, is simply an efficient carrier. But don't take my word for it. Go back to the numbers in Sean's write-up. Allegiant benefits from a generous spread between its revenue and cost per seat mile, and an equally bountiful load factor. The "load" is the percentage of traffic a carrier hauls versus its available capacity. In August, Allegiant's planes flew at 89% of total capacity.

Grade: Sustainable
Aging industries are often ripe for disruption, and Allegiant has many of the aspects of a classic Rule Breaker. There's little competition for this top dog and first mover, which is growing fast in a large, important industry (e.g. cheap leisure travel). It's also efficient, and blessed with engaged managers. CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. still owns more than 20% of the company. I'll be joining him by opening a small position when Foolish disclosure rules permit.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you like Allegiant Travel at these levels? Would you add it to your Foolish watchlist? Join the discussion in the comments box below, and when you're done, click here to get today's 11 O'Clock portfolio pick.

You can also ask Tim to evaluate a favorite growth story by sending him an email or replying to him on Twitter.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Southwest Airlines is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. The Motley Fool owns shares of Allegiant Travel and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy thinks Monty Python is sustainably funny.


Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 1306346, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/21/2014 10:50:36 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement