What happened

In a curious confluence of circumstances, shares of stocks as varied as General Electric (NYSE:GE), Booking Holdings (NASDAQ:BKNG), and Six Flags Entertainment (NYSE:SIX) are all surging today -- and apparently on no news directly affecting any of them.

None of these three stocks reported earnings today nor received any kind words from Wall Street analysts. Regardless, in 2:40 p.m. EDT trading, shares of GE stock are running 5.7% higher, Booking Holdings is up 5.1%, and Six Flags has gained 8.9%. Why?

Three colorful arrows racing straight up on a black background

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

It's an October surprise for travel and leisure stocks -- and for General Electric, too. This morning, American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) reported its fiscal Q3 2020 earnings. Although they were abysmal, with sales way down from last year and a per-share loss of $4.71, they were also not nearly as bad as expected.

Delta Air Lines' massive earnings miss earlier this month spooked the market, you see, and the gloom only deepened when United Airlines followed up with a big miss of its own. Analysts had forecast that American would complete this tic-tac-toe of disappointment by losing $5.88 a share. They also thought sales would be down more than they were, predicting revenue of less than $2.8 billion -- but American reported $3.2 billion instead.

Even better, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker married his better-than-expected numbers with an observation that while the air travel market right now is still "nothing like it has been in the past," demand for holiday travel, at least, looks "relatively strong."

Now what

What does this mean for companies like General Electric, Booking Holdings, and Six Flags -- or more to the point today, what do investors appear to think it means?

For General Electric, greater demand for air travel means greater demand for airplanes with which to conduct that travel -- and therefore greater demand for airplane engines, which last year made up more than one-third of GE's total revenue and as much as 88% of its profits (according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence).

For Booking Holdings, it means the promise of more reservations for airplane tickets to carry vacationers to their destinations, and for hotels to house them there. And Six Flags? Investors appear to be hoping that at least some of these vacationers will choose amusement parks as their vacation destination.

Rightly or wrongly, it's these hopes that appear to be driving all three stocks higher today -- and it all started with a few happy words from an airlines exec.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.