After enjoying a promising start to the year, Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL) has hit some unexpected turbulence. Year-to-date, Delta stock is down 4%, weighed down due to fears of a possible trade war with China. Also, other question marks about the economy have broadly hurt the airline industry.
In many ways, the airlines are a bellwether for the real economy. The government can put up a bunch of charts and statistics; ultimately, though, what makes most sense to people is whether or not they’re making ends meet. That directly plays into disposable income levels, which is a metric that just can’t be faked.
So far, the situation looks favorable for airline companies. Nevertheless, this is not the most stable sector, and investors have been burned before. Just how reliable, then, is Delta stock?
Here are three pros and three cons to consider:
Delta Stock Pros
People love Delta. It’s the first rule of business: Take care of your customers or someone else will. Delta has clearly taken this message to heart. Last year, it ranked second to Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) in a J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey. From my own positive experiences with Delta, I’m not at all surprised.
And fortunately for often embattled flyers, the airliner isn’t resting on its laurels. In another customer survey conducted this year, Delta ranked third, improving from seventh place one year ago. The company slightly lowered its airfare, and improved critical metrics such as on-time arrivals and route network size.
Generally speaking, Delta keeps its brand image untarnished. It’s been wise to avoid some of its rivals’ awful mistakes. In such a competitive atmosphere, it pays to have a quantifiable edge such as superior service. That’s a big plus for Delta stock.
Delta stock benefits from record passenger boost. According to Airlines for America, a record number of passengers will fly internationally via U.S. airliners this spring. This follows a strong 2017, where the industry transported record-setting passenger volume. More importantly, it was the safest year in aviation history.
With Delta scoring high with customers, and constantly improving its business, you’d expect a boost for Delta stock. In addition, the company is poised to enjoy further tailwinds. Due to increased competition, lower fares, and a more accessible industry, people are considering air travel over other transportation methods.
In this low fare environment, airliners especially make sense given that we’re experiencing a multi-year record lift in gasoline prices. Again, having that strong customer service reputation goes a long way in wooing customers looking for alternatives.
Economic sentiment is a tailwind for Delta stock. Despite significant rumblings against the Trump administration, one thing’s not deniable — economic metrics, especially jobs, have improved substantially. Democrats will argue that the Obama administration built the foundations for President Trump’s success. However you want to look at it, disposable income is up, and that’s great for Delta stock.
Obviously, disposable income has a direct impact on whether American families choose to fly. But just as critically, industry experts forecast that business travel will grow at the fastest rate in two decades. Companies are willing to invest more in certain expenditures, and that theoretically should lift profitability metrics for Delta stock.
Finally, the lodging industry this year has registered record-breaking numbers, which lifts the entire travel sector. This dynamic should benefit airliners more due to their lower fares, especially superior companies like DAL.
Delta Stock Cons
Economic prosperity not guaranteed to last. When the jobs market continued to produce outstanding results, even Trump-haters may have been convinced to give him a chance. But with the China tariffs on everyone’s mind, I think that sliver of hope vanished.
Currently, we’re not in an all-out trade war. The White House primarily wanted to send China a message regarding unfair business practices and intellectual property theft. They in turn retaliated with a measured response. So far, so good.
But if the situation gets ugly — and that’s a real possibility with Trump — Delta stock could end up hurting. Primarily, the airliner would potentially miss out on lucrative Chinese business travel dollars. In addition, further retaliatory tariffs hurt our own industries, which then negatively impact domestic demand.
Admittedly, this is a bit of speculation on my part. However, given our current administration’s lack of diplomatic tact, it’s not that much of a stretch.
Financials aren’t the greatest. Investors can appreciate Delta’s efforts in dramatically improving its customer service, as well as other core, satisfaction-related components. But at the end of the day, the fundamentals will determine where Delta stock goes. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the company’s strong suit.
Over the last three years, top-line sales have barely moved over 1%. I don’t care what industry you’re in, that’s just unacceptably pedestrian. To be fair, United Continental Holdings Inc (NYSE:UAL) is experiencing negative growth in the same time frame. Then again, it knocked a passenger senseless, so it deserve its troubles.
But the net income situation isn’t at all favorable for either company. For DAL specifically, net income dropped from $4.5 billion in 2015 to $3.6 billion last year. Moreover, operating expenses just keep rising, which means the situation may not improve unless something drastic is done.
Delta stock is boring. My InvestorPlace colleague Lawrence Meyers recently stated, “Airlines are too unpredictable in general for a long-term investment.” But for Delta stock, I have to disagree. It is predictable, as in predictably boring.
Prior to 2015, airliners were the place to park your money. The industry experienced a revival following the doldrums of the Great Recession. But since 2015, Delta stock is a real snoozer. I’m sorry, but just look at the facts.
On January 2, 2015, Delta stock opened the year at $47.37. Compared to the time of writing price, shares have gained a little more than 13%. You could have put your money instead in the ultra-boring SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSEARCA:SPY) and received 35%. By the way, that’s including the sharp losses the SPY has suffered this year.
Bottom Line on Delta Stock
Ultimately, this is a tough call. Delta stock enjoys several tailwinds that may continue to attract investor dollars. The underlining company has also invested heavily in customer satisfaction, which is the most important thing a business can do.
At the same time, the risk is that these bullish factors have already been priced into Delta stock. Moreover, they’re dependent on highly variable situations. If our foreign policy trips up, that’s a problem for the entire travel industry.
Finally, you have to consider the broader market weakness. We’ve enjoyed a ridiculously long rally, and we’re long overdue for a significant correction. Given that airliners aren’t the most reliable investments, I’m going to sit out Delta stock for now.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.