Monday, April 07, 2014

Investing in Airlines Earnings Growth

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The airline sector was looking pretty strong thanks to more fuel efficient planes, lower competition, and higher demand for air travel. However, many were worried that the recent batch of bad weather would ground this rally and send airline stocks lower.

This really hasn’t been the case though, as many airline stocks have powered through the bad weather and easily beaten out the S&P 500 in the year-to-date time frame. In fact, several companies have put up gains in excess of 20% to kick-off 2014, shaking off the overall market’s turbulence effortlessly.

One company sticks out in this continued airline stock rally though, as it has outgained many of its competitors in the time period, while it is generally overlooked as well. This stock, Alaska Air Group (ALK - Trend Report), has also avoided much of the bad weather thanks to its West Coast focus, and it could actually still be a great pick for investors in the near term.

Alaska Air Group in Focus

Alaska Air Group, as you might guess from the name, has a big operation in Alaska, including a hub in Anchorage. The company also has heavy exposure in the Washington/Oregon area as well though, as the firm has hubs in Seattle (where it is actually headquartered) and Portland too.

ALK is also rapidly expanding to other markets as the airline is adding more than a dozen city pairs by the end of the summer. This looks to continue the solid momentum for the company which just reported March traffic figures that represented a 4% increase over last year’s numbers, along with a record 88.1% of flights arriving on-time for Alaska Airlines’ mainline division.

Earnings Estimates

Given these solid metrics and the huge possibilities for expansion, it shouldn’t be too surprising to note that many analysts have been raising their estimates for ALK’s stock as of late. In fact, for both the current year and next year estimates, not a single estimate has gone lower in the past 90 days.

Instead, the consensus estimate has been climbing higher in the past three months, moving from $6.26/share up to today’s reading of $6.68/share. And for next year’s figures, a similar trend appears as the consensus has moved from $6.97/share to $7.59/share today.

Additionally, estimates for the current quarter have also been rising and especially so when you look at the ‘most accurate estimate’ for the stock, as well as our Earnings ESP metric. This reading comes in at +9.47% which means that the most recent estimates have been particularly bullish and that the stock could be poised to beat when it reports earnings later this month.

This is further confirmed by the Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) that we currently have on ALK. When investors combine this top rank with a positive ESP so close to earnings, stocks have shown a nearly 70% chance of beating estimates, suggesting that ALK might be able to keep up the momentum in the near term.

Bottom Line

Currently, the airline industry has a top one-third rank meaning that many companies are well positioned for further growth in the space. However, due to Alaska Airlines’ robust position in many of its key markets and nearly limitless expansion opportunities, ALK could definitely be one stock to pick from this impressive group as it looks as if more gains are ahead for this company in the coming months.

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