"Airline profits are soaring -- but it's not good news for consumers." So blared the headline on Fortune magazine this past summer, but Fortune could have added one more caveat: Soaring profits for airlines are not translating into any particularly great dividends for the owners of airline stocks. Take Delta Air Lines (DAL -1.60%), for example.
With a $0.45 trailing dividend, projected to rise to $0.54 per share this year, Delta Air Lines is now one of the most generous airlines in the industry, at least as far as paying dividends to shareholders goes. Whether you compare it to fellow legacy carriers American Airlines or United Continental Holdings, or to discounters Southwest Airlines or JetBlue Airways, Delta is currently top of the heap.
Delta's $0.54 in annual dividend checks works out to a 1.15% annual dividend yield on its $46 stock price -- fully 15% better than the 1% dividend American Airlines pays, half again the 0.8% payout at Southwest, and miles above United or JetBlue, neither of which pay any dividend at all.
And yet, while neither of those carriers will pay you a better dividend than Delta Air Lines, there is one airline that will: Copa Holdings SA (CPA -1.76%).
At the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot north of [Panama City, Panama]
At the Copa, Copacabana, they'll ... pay you a better dividend than at Delta!
With apologies to Barry Manilow, it's true. The single airline listed on U.S. stock exchanges that promises to pay a better dividend yield than Delta is Panamanian carrier Copa Holdings. And we're not talking a difference of pennies, either.
In fact, according to data from S&P Capital IQ, Copa Holdings is currently paying out a 6.6% dividend yield on its shares -- nearly six times more than what Delta shells out. The question for investors, though, is whether you should shell out for Copa shares and the fat dividend yield.
Copa versus Delta -- pluses and minuses
While it may not be a household name in the U.S. just yet, Copa could soon be. Copa Holdings, you see, is no fly-by-night operation (if you'll pardon the pun). Indeed, at one point last year, fast-growing Copa was the largest buyer of airplanes from Boeing.
Fast growth does, however, bring risks. For example, analysts are still trying to get a handle on Copa's growth rate, which can make it hard for individual investors to know which way Copa is going. After earning $8.37 per share in 2014, analysts have Copa pegged to earn just $4.80 when 2015 earnings come out, and $4.69 in 2016, before earnings start climbing again in 2017. Revenues, likewise, are supposed to endure two years of famine before beginning to feast again.
This all makes it hard to calculate a long-term growth rate on the stock, so right now, analysts are instead projecting 11% annualized long-term earnings declines. Compared to Delta's projected steady growth, which is supposed to annualize at an incredible 27.5% per year over the next five years, Copa's expectation of earnings declines probably doesn't look so attractive. On the other hand, like Yogi Berra said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Analyst predictions notwithstanding, I think the chance of fast-growing Copa showing sustained earnings declines far into the future is about as unlikely as gigantic Delta, currently the nation's second-largest airline, growing north of 27% as far as the eye can see.
What I do know is that right now, today, Copa is paying its shareholders a monster 6.6% dividend. And I know it pays a better dividend than Delta Air Lines -- that's a fact you can take to the bank.