On Monday morning airline investors were greeted with both good news and bad. Wall Street was more focused on the bad, sending airline shares falling in Monday trading.
The airlines have been among the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic, with revenue down 65% or more year over year and a multi-year recovery on the horizon. The stocks have recovered somewhat in recent weeks thanks to positive developments concerning a vaccine, but still remain off for the year.
The airlines survived the worst of the pandemic thanks in part to $50 billion in aid from the government as part of the CARES Act, and the industry learned over the weekend that the planned second stimulus bill that is working its way through Congress would include an additional $15 billion in support for airlines.
That money would be for payroll support, and not a direct bailout, meaning the money would go to bringing back 32,000 airline workers who have been furloughed. But even if the funding doesn't go directly to the airlines' balance sheets it is still good news for the industry. By having the employees on the payrolls airlines can help keep them trained and ready to fly, meaning they will be able to bounce back quicker as things recover.
Unfortunately, the stimulus news was overshadowed by a grim development in the battle to fight the pandemic. The United Kingdom is beefing up lockdown restrictions in response to a more transmissible form of COVID-19, and many countries are restricting travel to and from Britain.
American and United both rely on international travel for a lot of their revenues and profits, and both count U.K.–U.S. routes as among their most lucrative. Any setbacks to the return of transatlantic travel would hit those airlines particularly hard. Spirit, meanwhile, was seen as one of the early beneficiaries of a recovery, and is likely under pressure on investor fears that the recovery might be stalled.
The news out of Britain is troubling, and a reminder of how fragile this recent recovery is. But for investors with a long-term mindset, the news over the weekend should not be any reason to buy or sell.
We know a vaccine is coming, but will take time. We also know the U.S. airlines have enough cash on their balance sheets to weather the continued losses until a vaccine is widespread. It's safe to buy into airlines, but only if you have the stomach to survive continued turbulence and the patience to wait out a multiyear recovery.
For those who do, focus on top names including Southwest Airlines (LUV -1.34%) and Delta and try to block out the noise, good and bad, in the weeks and months that follow.