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Airline Stock Roundup: Alaska Air Wins Virgin America Deal; Delta Traffic in Focus

There were quite a few developments last week in the airline space, but the $4 billion deal (inclusive of debt and capitalized aircraft operating leases) inked by Alaska Air Group ALK to buy low-cost carrier Virgin America VA overshadowed everything else.

Apart from the lucrative deal, the past week saw the Atlanta, GA-based Delta Air Lines DAL announcing the traffic numbers for March. Similar to February, load factor (% of seats filled with passengers) declined in March too as traffic growth was outpaced by capacity expansion. Furthermore, expansion related and labor friendly updates from Southwest Airlines LUV and United Continental Holdings UAL, respectively, gained attention over the past week.

Read the last  Airline Stock Roundup for Mar 30, 2016.

Recap of the Past Week’s Most Important Stories

1. Outbidding JetBlue Airways JBLU, the Seattle, WA-based Alaska Air Group clinched the deal to acquire the California-based Virgin America, partly owned by British billionaire investor, Richard Branson. The deal, expected to be completed by Jan 1, 2017, would improve Alaska Air Group’s presence in the West Coast significantly. Naturally, this has led to the speculations whether the presence of a bigger and stronger Alaska Air Group, post-merger, would affect carriers like Hawaiian Holdings HA which too has a significant presence in the region. We believe that the Alaska-Virgin merger (if it happens) should flourish in the favorable backdrop prevailing in the airline space, courtesy cheap oil (read more: After Virgin-Alaska Deal, Which Airline Stocks are Buys?).  

2.  Delta Air Lines, which will hold its annual shareholder meeting on Jun 10, announced 1.2% increase in revenue passenger miles (RPMs: a measure of traffic) and 1.5% rise in average seat miles (ASMs: a measure of capacity) for the month of March. Load factor decreased to 84.8% from 85% recorded in Mar 2015. The company witnessed a 5% drop in passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM: a key measure of unit revenue) in the month mainly due to volatile foreign currency exchange rates and the terrorist attacks in Brussels. Moreover, soft passenger yields from domestic markets impacted the metric.

Delta anticipates operating margin in the range of 18% to 19% for first-quarter 2016 (results to be released on Apr 14) while PRASM is likely to drop 4.5%. The airline behemoth expects average fuel price per gallon in the band of $1.33 to $1.37. System capacity is projected to increase approximately 2.7%.

3. In a bid to expand its operations, Southwest Airlines announced that it will operate flights connecting the Long Beach Airport and Oakland from Jun 5 this year. In keeping with its expansion initiatives, the Dallas, TX-based low-cost carrier intends to operate four non-stop flights daily between the cities (read more: Southwest Airlines to Connect Long Beach, Oakland from Summer).

4. United Continental Holdings inked a pay related tentative contract with its ground workers’ union (International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers or IAM). The tentative deal will run through 2021 subject to ratification. IAM covers 30,000 workers (airport operations employees, contact center agents, storekeepers, maintenance instructors, central load planners, fleet technical instructors and related employees, and security officers) at the Chicago-based carrier.

5. Basking in the glory of the Virgin America deal, Alaska Air Group reported a 9.2% increase in March traffic. Capacity too increased 9.2% while load factor remained almost flat at 86.2%. At the end of the first three months of 2016, Alaska Air generated RPMs of 8.57 billion (up 11% year over year) and ASMs of 10.45 billion (up 12.9%). Load factor declined 140 basis points to 82%.


The following table shows the price movement of the major airline players over the past week and during the last 6 months. 



Past Week

Last 6 months

















































The table above shows that almost all major airline stocks traded in the red over the past week with shares of GOL Linhas declining the most (19.79%). However, Virgin America gained a massive 44.57% thanks to its deal with Alaska Air Group. The NYSE ARCA Airline index gained marginally over the past week to $91.10 primarily due to the Alaska-Virgin deal.

Over the past six months, most airline stocks moved up with the NYSE ARCA Airline index gaining 5.66%. Shares of Hawaiian Holdings appreciated the most (97.32%) during the period.

What's Next in the Airline Space?

We expect March traffic updates from carriers like Southwest Airlines and United Continental Holdings in the coming days.

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SOUTHWEST AIR (LUV): Free Stock Analysis Report
JETBLUE AIRWAYS (JBLU): Free Stock Analysis Report
DELTA AIR LINES (DAL): Free Stock Analysis Report
HAWAIIAN HLDGS (HA): Free Stock Analysis Report
ALASKA AIR GRP (ALK): Free Stock Analysis Report
UNITED CONT HLD (UAL): Free Stock Analysis Report
VIRGIN AMERICA (VA): Free Stock Analysis Report
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