Board Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL) Stock Ahead of Earnings

If you're long, stay long. It's the latecomers that have some decisions to make.

Shares of Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL) have been on fire since May, rallying nearly 20%. For the year, DAL stock is now up 10%-plus and will report earnings Thursday before the open. If you’re like most investors, you’re probably wondering what to do.

Board Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL) Stock Ahead of Earnings
Source: via Delta

For starters, Delta has a ton of positives going for it. It’s profitable, and is set to earn $5.34 per share this year. That’s slightly better than last year’s results, but analysts have big hopes for 2018.

Estimates call for earnings of $6.12 per share, which would represent nearly 15% growth year-over-year. Pair that with 3.7% revenue growth and 2017 seems to be setting the stage for a strong 2018.

Some may argue that growth is unimpressive — it’s near flat in 2017 and low double-digit EPS growth in 2018. However, consider how much investors are currently paying for DAL stock. With a trailing price-earnings ratio of 10 and a 2018 P/E ratio of 8.8, Delta is pretty cheap.

So while some may chide DAL stock for its lack of robust growth, one could also argue that any growth at all is impressive given its current valuation. Let alone double-digit EPS growth next year. For example, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) trades with a similar valuation (12x earnings) and will likely have down earnings from 2016 through 2018.

DAL stock also sports a 1.5% dividend yield. While this is nothing to write home about, it isn’t a bad return either. This is especially true considering the stock has returned nearly 400% over the past five years. For the past three years, Delta has made an effort to increase the dividend by 50%. This has been done each summer and hopefully will continue in 2017. With a payout ratio of less than 15%, it seems plausible.

Also consider that Warren Buffett owns almost 8% of the outstanding stock. Whether this helps the dividend, we don’t know. But it’s always good to have the Oracle of Omaha in your corner.

Trading DAL Stock

DAL stock, Delta, DAL, Delta earnings
Click to Enlarge

With Delta earnings set for Thursday, investors are potentially in a tough spot. In June, we wrote about three airline stocks heading higher. Alongside Southwest Airlines Co (NYSE:LUV) and Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) was, of course, DAL stock.

At the time, shares were on a notable uptrend and were consolidating above big-time resistance.

On the right, we have the weekly chart, which shows a pretty similar layout. The uptrend is in purple, prior resistance (and now hopefully support) is in green. The recent rally is a concern, though. Delta is up 20% in the past nine weeks and the worry is that DAL stock is extending too far.

Investors who are long should consider staying long. It’s the latecomers that have a problem. Buying now opens them to the risk of a pullback given the recent rally.

However, failing to get in now — while the economy is strong, business is good and oil prices are falling — could cause them to miss the boat altogether.

Bottom Line on DAL Stock

One option would be to buy a half or a third of a position now. On a correction to support (~$51), investors could add to the position. If a further decline materializes down to trend line support, investors could again add to the position.

At least if Delta earnings cause a rally, investors would have a small position to benefit from. If it causes a decline, investors are in a position to lower their cost basis.

Delta is a very well-run company with a strong business. Investors had a great buying opportunity, but that doesn’t mean the time to be long is over. Look for further gains in DAL stock over the next 12 months.

Bret Kenwell is the manager and author of Future Blue Chips and is on Twitter @BretKenwell. As of this writing, Bret Kenwell did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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