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Bumpy Q1 Ahead for Airlines? 3 Stocks to Sell Pre-Earnings

Atlanta, GA-based airline behemoth Delta Air Lines DAL will kick off the first-quarter earnings season for the airline industry on Apr 14, 2016. We expect the carrier’s results, which will be released before the market opens on that day, to be impacted by adverse foreign currency movements and the Mar 22 Brussels terrorist attacks.

Delta had already announced that its passengers were among the casualties reported in the departure area at Brussels' Zaventem Airport. The attacks have and will, at least over the short term, hit travel to the European nations. We believe Delta’s first quarter results too will face the heat of the Brussels incident. Delta expects passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM: a key measure of unit revenue) to decline approximately 4.5% in the first quarter.

PRASM Woes Not Unique to Delta

Delta is not the only carrier plagued by PRASM-related woes. United Continental Holdings UAL expects PRASM in the first quarter to decline in the band of 7.25% to 7.75% due to a strong U.S. dollar, lower surcharges, lower travel plans mainly by energy dependent corporate customers and weak domestic yields.

Moreover, Dallas-based low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines LUV, which will release its first quarter results on Apr 21, also expects to struggle with respect to unit revenue and projects its operating revenue per available seat miles (RASM) to be flat on a year-over-year basis. Another low-cost carrier, Virgin America VA estimates PRASM to decline in the band of 3% to 5% in the upcoming quarter.

Oil Rebound Another Worry for Airlines

It is a well-known fact that fuel expenses form one of the largest input costs for carriers. Naturally, lower the oil prices, the better for airline players. Oil prices are currently moving in the wrong direction as far as airline players are concerned. Crude prices are currently hovering around the $40 a barrel mark, reflecting a significant increase from the second half of February when it had reached a 12-year low of $26.21.

This strong resurgence is intimidating for airline stocks as they pull up their socks ahead of the first quarter earnings season. Apart from the above worries, capacity-related woes are also likely to hurt airlines. That capacity worries are not a thing of the past, is evident from the fact that the recent traffic reports of most carriers like Delta Air Lines and United Continental showed a decline in load factor (% of seats filled by passengers) as capacity expansion outweighed traffic growth.

Moreover, the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus posed yet another challenge for carriers as it adversely impacted travel demand to Zika-affected areas.

Dump These Carriers from Your Portfolio Now

In view of the above challenges confronting carriers, we believe the first quarter earnings season can turn out to be more of a disappointment for airline players. That a lull is in store for the entire transportation sector, of which airlines companies are a part, can be made out from our Zacks Earnings Tends report. The report suggests that earnings per share in the first quarter are expected to contract 2.2% for the S&P members of the broader transportation sector.

Given this gloomy background, we pinpoint three airline players with the help of our Zacks Stock Screener, which investors would do well to get rid of before the earnings season commences for the industry on Apr 14.

American Airlines Group Inc. AAL, based in Fort Worth, TX, carries a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell) and is set to report its first-quarter number on Apr 22. We expect the carrier to deliver lower-than-expected earnings. Our model too hints at an earnings miss for the carrier. This is because American Airlines has an Earnings ESP of -2.70%, which in combination with its bearish Zacks Rank, make earnings prediction rather dicey. Moreover, the carrier has seen negative earnings estimate revisions with the consensus estimate for the first quarter going down 8 cents to $1.11 per share over the last 30 days.

That PRASM woes will continue to be a bother is evident from the carrier’s estimation of the metric to decline in the band of 7% to 8% in the first quarter.

JetBlue Airways Corporation JBLU, based in Long Island City, NY, too is in store for a gloomy first quarter. The low-cost carrier received a major blow recently when it lost the bidding war to Alaska Air Group ALK regarding the deal to buy Virgin America. The carrier’s Zacks Rank #4 (Sell) and its earnings ESP of -5.46% almost guarantee an earnings miss, according to our model. Moreover, the carrier has seen negative earnings estimate revisions with the first quarter Zacks Consensus Estimate falling 5 cents to 55 cents per share over the last 30 days. The carrier is expected to report its financials on Apr 26.

JetBlue’s disappointing RASM forecast made last month further indicates that trouble is not over at the company. The metric is projected to decline in the band of 7% to 8% in the first quarter.

LATAM Airlines Group S.A.LFL, based in Santiago, Chile, carries a Zacks Rank #5. The carrier, which is expected to release its first-quarter results on May 20, has seen its first quarter earnings estimate go down by 6 cents to 12 cents per share over the last 30 days. Weak economic conditions in Latin America are expected to hurt the carrier’s first quarter results. Our model strongly recommends avoiding Sell-rated (Zacks Rank #4 or 5) stocks going into an earnings announcement.

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SOUTHWEST AIR (LUV): Free Stock Analysis Report
LATAM AIRLINES (LFL): Free Stock Analysis Report
JETBLUE AIRWAYS (JBLU): Free Stock Analysis Report
DELTA AIR LINES (DAL): Free Stock Analysis Report
ALASKA AIR GRP (ALK): Free Stock Analysis Report
UNITED CONT HLD (UAL): Free Stock Analysis Report
AMER AIRLINES (AAL): Free Stock Analysis Report
VIRGIN AMERICA (VA): Free Stock Analysis Report
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