The big airlines should post significant earnings growth in 2012, writes Maxim Group analyst Ray Neidl. The airlines have already pushed through two ticket price increases this year, and as long as airlines keep capacity tight and fuel costs don’t escalate much, the skies look bright. In fact Neidl sees the major carriers earning a combined $6 billion this year, up from $3.5 billion in 2011.
That said, the smart money in the short term could be with the smaller niche carriers, which are “not trying to be all things to all customers.” Neidl likes Allegiant Travel (ALGT), Alaska Air Group (ALK), Hawaiian Airlines (HA), and Spirit Airlines (SAVE).
He thinks the legacy airlines will reward investors down the road: “Longer term (when we expect economic activity to pickup worldwide and the industry returns to more normal growth patterns), we believe that the restructured U.S. legacy airlines will be in a position to benefit; at what we consider to be today�s low market valuation, their stock prices should be propelled.
And he warns investors to stay away from the equity of AMR (AAMRQ), the bankrupt parent company of American Airlines. “The easy thing to predict is that current equity holders will be wiped out based upon our knowledge of previous airlines bankruptcies. We also believe that AMR will successfully restructure, not as a low-cost airline, but as a cost-competitive entity compared to Delta (DAL) and United Continental (UAL) .”