It’s been an up-and-down year so far for travel stock. Earlier this spring, there was a great deal of excitement for the airlines, hotels, and related stocks. The Invesco Dynamic Leisure and Entertainment ETF (NYSEARCA:PEJ) gained more than 20% in the first five months of the year.
However, that enthusiasm has dimmed considerably. New waves and variants of the novel coronavirus, such as Delta, have slowed down the travel sector recovery. Meanwhile, vaccine skepticism has slowed vaccination rates in certain states and countries. That same travel-heavy exchange-traded fund, PEJ, has lost 9.3% since the beginning of June.
While the world economy is on the mend from the virus, it’s been an uneven comeback so far. The “Roaring 20s” narrative seemingly came and went within a month as society failed to reach the levels of reopening prosperity that analysts had been hoping for.
Combine that with a great deal of outstanding debt in the travel industry, and many firms still face a challenging future. For companies that use a bunch of leverage, losing this large a chunk of revenues and cash flows for an extended period can be a crippling blow.
To be sure, some travel stocks are coming out of this in a much better state than others. These seven are the most promising looking a few months out:
- Airbnb (NASDAQ:ABNB)
- Uber Technologies (NYSE:UBER)
- Sabre (NASDAQ:SABR)
- Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV)
- Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (NYSE:PAC)
- Corporacion America Airports (NYSE:CAAP)
- Penn National Gaming (NASDAQ:PENN)
Travel Stocks:Airbnb (ABNB)
I recently explained why investors have been too harsh on ABNB stock. The company’s last earnings report was actually quite good, all things considered. While the initial reaction was rather lukewarm, Airbnb is now started to trend upward.
Indeed, Airbnb’s resilient business model has allowed it to refocus its efforts in a way that traditional lodging companies couldn’t. Management quickly moved toward bringing online listings in more isolated and rural areas. It also subtly shifted marketing toward more domestic options, helping travelers discover unique destinations in their own countries which avoided the difficulties of international transit.
Add it all up, and in Airbnb’s second quarter, numbers for most of its regions were back to within reasonable range of 2019 results for the same period. Overall, the company expects to have its biggest revenue quarter ever in Q3 of this year. It is prioritizing bringing initiatives such as Airbnb experiences back.
The pandemic certainly disrupted the company’s growth plans, but Airbnb may well come out of it stronger as compared to normal hotel operations.
Uber Technologies (UBER)
Uber, like Airbnb, is a former darling tech unicorn that has had a less than favorable run of it during Covid-19. Uber just issued another downbeat earnings report, and people are starting to ask if the company will ever reach profitability.
While it’d be easy to throw in the towel on the ride sharing and delivery giant, it’s hard to cast the blame on management directly. Obviously, during the pandemic, a huge chunk of its business disappeared. People commuting to work or going home from nightlife; that all just disappeared for awhile.
Now that the economy has come back to life, it still hasn’t solved Uber’s problems. Now, there’s a driver shortage and thus Uber can’t meet demand. To the extent that it is bringing more drivers online, it is having to use large incentives, which hurts profit margins. And, in the food delivery business, a vicious competitive environment has made it hard to earn profits. Throw in New York City’s recent cap on food delivery commissions and it’s just one bad headline after another.
Really, though, do any of these negatives matter once we’re into 2022 or 2023? Uber is still by far the most well-known brand in its space. This should be a winner-take-all or at minimum winner-take-most market. And Uber has long made it known that it aims to eventually use self-driving technology to help on the cost side.
There’s a fair debate about whether or not the ride-hailing tech can ever live up to its promise. However, the current bear narrative around UBER stock is half-baked. That offers a compelling opportunity to take a position while pessimism is at a maximum.
Travel Stocks: Sabre (SABR)
Sabre is one of the three major companies that provide booking services to the airlines. It operates a global distribution service (GDS) which facilitates booking and ticketing for airlines, trains and car rentals, among others.
The GDS platform allows travel agents, online booking sites, and such to display prices for all the possible different options when arranging a trip. This makes one-stop shopping easy. In return, Sabre captures a small piece of the transaction for putting the marketplace together. Some discount airline carriers have tried to cut the GDS out of the picture and have passengers book directly through their own sites. However, the GDS system has proven sticky and serves a form of monopoly on the travel market.
Sabre’s shares got pummeled during the pandemic, as makes sense when its revenues dried up. The company also has a significant chunk of debt, which further concerned investors. However, Sabre survived the worst of the downturn and raised money once its shares had meaningfully recovered, thus reducing dilution.
Also, the company’s heavy investments in upgrading its technology system hadn’t kicked into effect prior to the pandemic but should meaningfully improve the business going forward.
As the travel market picks back up, SABR stock should have further room to run. Shares went for around $20 pre-Covid but are at just $11 now.
Southwest Airlines (LUV)
I don’t love airlines as an industry. Investors such as Warren Buffett have long criticized the sector for using too much capital, earning poor profit margins, and consistently running into trouble during industry downturns. That once again happened with the novel coronavirus; the government had to step in with an emergency package.
There’s one airline that has charted a different course from most of its large U.S. rivals, however. Southwest has a great balance sheet, and was easily able to survive Covid-19 and remain in a position of strength. The company’s historical strong points such as a differentiated route network, cheap operations costs, and a creative hedging program have helped Southwest stand apart from the legacy carriers.
LUV stock is up 3.24% for the year to date, while air travel-heavy U.S. Global Jets ETF (NYSEARCA:JETS) has gained less than 1%.
Southwest also has another big edge: It’s more tied to tourist traffic. A big takeaway for the travel industry right now is that leisure demand has come back quickly. However, business travel appears to have permanently reduced demand compared to pre-Covid levels.
That’s terrible news for carriers that rely on high-spending executives. Southwest, by contrast, has a business model that will prove to be more resilient in the new economic normal.
Travel Stocks: Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (PAC)
Pacifico is one of the three publicly listed Mexican airport operators. Each has a focus on a different thing. One of the operators is primarily levered to tourism, while another is largely a play on Mexican manufacturing and exports from the industrial heartland. Then there’s Pacifico.
Pacifico is arguably the best of the bunch, since it has a stake in all segments of the Mexican economy. The company’s flagship Guadalajara airport serves Mexico’s second-largest city, drawing tons of traffic of all kinds. The Tijuana airport enjoys strong industrial demand and increasing popularity as an alternative airport for the overcrowded San Diego, California runway on the other side of the border. In addition, Pacifico operates the airports for the booming Mexican beach destinations of Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.
Mexico’s economy has sprung back to life far faster than most other countries. Indeed, Pacifico recently reported that its traffic is back to 98% of 2019 levels. It’s not just comparing against 2020 anymore, indeed, Pacifico’s traffic numbers are totally back to normal. If anything, they’ll probably surpass 2019 levels in coming months. PAC stock is up almost 11% in the last three months
There’s plenty of pent-up travel demand out there, and Mexico’s favorable international travel policies have it as a leading destination in the Americas right now.
Corporacion America Airports (CAAP)
I mentioned CAAP stock as a rare penny stock with a strong buy outlook last October. While the company’s share price was at a measly $2, the company’s fundamentals were better than the market was giving it credit for. Corporacion America Airports had cash to survive the pandemic and offered a promising longer-term outlook.
Since then, CAAP has graduated from penny stock status; shares are up from $2 to $5.50. However, even at the higher price, it’s time to give CAAP a fresh look.
CAAP operates dozens of airports in a number of countries. The majority of its business is in Argentina, however it reduces geopolitical risk by also holding properties in Italy, Brazil and Armenia, among other markets. Based on pre-Covid levels of EBITDA generation, CAAP stock is selling for around just 5x EBITDA. That’s dirt cheap for airports; the Mexican airport operators tend to trade at 10-15x EBITDA even given their own political risks.
CAAP also secured a key contract extension for their main Argentine airports during the pandemic. Before, its leases were set to end in the late 2020s, but the Argentine government gave the company a 10-year addition to that. Meanwhile, CAAP has efforts in place to improve its profitability on some of its key airports in Brazil and Italy.
Combine all that with improved vaccination rates and a sharply improving South American economy, and CAAP stock could be heading back to $15, where it traded in 2018.
Travel Stocks: Penn National Gaming (PENN)
The gaming and hospitality industry is another that’s been hard hit by Covid-19. While online gaming has taken flight in recent months, in-person casinos remain a less prosperous bet. This has put Penn National Gaming in an interesting place.
Its core physical gaming is taking awhile to come back to full strength. In the meantime, however Penn’s acquisition of Barstool Sports is paying off in spades. Penn has leveraged Barstool and its charismatic founder, Dave Portnoy, to become a leader mover in the online betting space.
It’s still early in the battle to dominate this newly-emerging industry. However, I have a lot of confidence that Portnoy can continue to guide Penn in a successful direction. Additionally, I’d note that the operations are actually quite profitable; PENN stock is going for around just 24x forward earnings.
That’s a big edge compared to some newer gaming rivals which haven’t yet reached consistent profitability.
On the date of publication, Ian Bezek held a long position in CAAP and PAC stock. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Ian Bezek has written more than 1,000 articles for InvestorPlace.com and Seeking Alpha. He also worked as a Junior Analyst for Kerrisdale Capital, a $300 million New York City-based hedge fund. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.