It’s totally plausible for economists, investors, stock pundits, and others to have very different views about the economy and the stock market’s outlook. But when it comes to the travel sector, I think it’s crystal clear that the space is continuing to boom. Therefore, I really think that it’s hard for investors to go wrong by buying travel stocks at this point.
Delta (NYSE:DAL) on Dec. 14 increased its fourth-quarter guidance in one very bullish sign for the travel sector. Moreover, its CEO, Ed Bastian, said, “Demand for air travel remains robust as we exit the year, and Delta’s momentum is building.”
Since, based on Bastian’s statement, it’s clear that the demand for air travel remains strong and appears to be accelerating, most American travel companies are going to be very successful for at least the medium term.
Also worth noting is an optimistic statement in August by the CEO of CWT, a company that coordinates business travel. “Demand for business travel and meetings is back with a vengeance, of that there is absolutely no doubt,” said Patrick Andersen, the CEO.
And providing a succinct, witty endorsement of travel stocks earlier this month was CNBC’s Jim Cramer, who said, “The biggest theme is the rise of this ‘life is too short’ mentality. People don’t want to waste their time anymore.”
Morgan Stanley, whose outlook on American stocks tends to be quite bearish, is nonetheless very upbeat on Hyatt (NYSE:H). The investment bank is bullish on the entire hotel sector, as it noted that the space’s U.S. RevPAR (revenue per available room) was higher than in 2019 as of the end of last year. Meanwhile, Hyatt’s occupancy levels and prices have been climbing, Morgan Stanley reported.
Partially driven by higher fees and capital returns to shareholders, Hyatt’s free cash flow per share and valuation will meaningfully increase, MS predicted last month. Moreover, Morgan Stanley expects the hotel operator’s 2023 EBITDA will come in around $1.3 billion. Finally, MS noted that the company intends to increase its total number of rooms by “5%…. over the next two years.”
Hyatt tends to cater to wealthier individuals, the vast majority of whom, in my opinion, have not been badly hurt by high inflation and rising interest rates.
The shares have momentum, as they jumped 23% in the month that ended on Jan. 23.
Booking Holdings (BKNG)
One of the world’s largest online travel agencies, Booking Holdings (NASDAQ:BKNG), like Hyatt, has a great deal of positive momentum, as its shares climbed 20% in the month that ended on Jan. 23.
Since it serves countries all over the world, BKNG can meaningfully benefit from China’s reopening and the acceleration of economic growth that’s currently occurring in Europe.
In the U.S., BKNG has a 38% share of the online hotel booking market, leaving the company well-positioned to benefit from the strong rebound of business travel in America.
On Dec. 29, investment bank Tigress Financial issued a bullish note on BKNG stock. According to the firm, the demand for travel will stay robust, and it thinks that the shares will get a “massive” lift from China’s reopening. Tigress maintained a $3,210 price target and a “strong-buy” rating on the shares.
BKNG has an attractive five-year forward PEG ratio of 0.54.
I’ve long been bullish on MGM’s (NYSE:MGM) shares, which I’ve also owned for many months. As reasons for my optimism on the name, I’ve cited MGM’s substantial leverage to Las Vegas’ powerful recovery, the excellent track record of Barry Diller, who has invested a great deal of money in the company, and the casino owner’s ability to benefit from the growth of sports betting through its joint venture, BetMGM.
Financial research firm Hedgeye recently issued a bullish note on MGM, stating, “We are becoming more positive on the LV Strip,” The firm expects Vegas’ casinos to get a big lift from the return of business conferences to the city and the high number of consumers who are currently visiting the area.
Also upbeat on MGM stock earlier this month was investment bank Stifel, which upgraded the shares to “buy” from “hold.” The firm predicts that the company will benefit from its robust database and its powerful loyalty program, as well as Las Vegas’ resurgence and the rejuvenation of the Chinese gambling center of Macau.
Meanwhile, New York is looking to allow three casinos to open in the New York City area, and there are rumors that Texas, where I currently live, is going to legalize gambling soon. MGM could get a major foothold in the two markets, both of which are huge.
Vail Resorts (MTN)
In a December column, I wrote that Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN) “should benefit from its focus on middle class and wealthy consumers,” along with generally “strong..demand” for skiing.
That prediction appears to have been correct, as the company, on Jan. 18, reported that the number of visits to its “North American destination mountain resorts and regional ski areas” had increased 12.5% during the current skiing season versus the same period a year earlier. Moreover, its “ski school revenue,” its “dining revenue,” and its “retail/rental revenue” soared 35.6%, 58%, and 34.4%, respectively, year-over-year. Thus, it is among the best travel stocks to buy.
Although the company said that “Season-to-date destination guest visitation at [its] western U.S. resorts was below [its] expectations” because of “extreme weather” that led to flight cancellations, I believe that the increases in the company’s metrics were still very impressive. Moreover, the firm reported that a portion of those who had to cancel their visits to its resorts earlier this season would return later in the year.
In the three months that ended on Jan. 23, MTN has climbed 16%, showing that it has positive momentum, and the shares have an attractive Enterprise Value/EBITDA ratio of 14.
American Airlines (AAL)
American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) is benefiting from the boom of the airline sector described by Delta’s CEO, whom I quoted in the introduction to this column.
Earlier this month, AAL stated that its fourth-quarter revenue had jumped 16%-17% versus 2019 levels, up from its previous estimate of an 11%-13% gain. Even more impressively, the airline now expects its Q4 EPS to come in at $1.12-$1.17, versus its previous outlook of 50 cents to 70 cents and analysts’ previous average estimate of 58 cents.
Meanwhile, American is well-positioned to take market share from Southwest (NYSE:LUV) after the latter airline’s recent debacle.
Airlines have generally been performing very well recently, as, reporting data from Bank of America, Seeking Alpha reported that “System net sales were up 14.6% above the pre-pandemic 2019 level for the week ending January 8 to continue the recent positive trends seen throughout the holiday periods.”
AAL stock has an attractive forward price-earnings ratio of 7.4. Thus, it is among the top travel stocks to buy.
Uber Technologies (UBER)
Given its strong leverage to the number of people flying and tourism, Uber (NYSE:UBER) is well-positioned to benefit from the travel stocks boom in general and the current flying surge in particular. Additionally, the company, with its Uber Eats unit, is exploiting the food delivery trend, whose popularity has been surging in recent years.
Indeed, analysts, on average, expect its sales to jump 16% this year to $36.85 billion, and their mean estimate calls for its per-share loss to narrow to just 25 cents this year from $4.87 in 2022.
Their average price target on the name is $45.92, more than 50% above the stock’s current level.
Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs believes that Uber can exploit increased demand for the delivery of goods beyond food. And Uber is finally starting to dip its toe into the autonomous-driving pool, as the company has started to offer autonomous rides in Las Vegas and is poised to extend the service to Los Angeles. Of course, using autonomous vehicles rather than human drivers should save Uber a great deal of money, particularly as the company’s use of self-driving cars expands around the U.S. and beyond.
Trading at a price-sales ratio of just two, Uber’s valuation is very attractive at this point.
Like travel stocks such as Uber, Airbus (OTCMKTS:EADSY), a huge Europe-based plane maker, is well-positioned to benefit from the airlines’ prosperity.
In fact, Airbus, unlike its main competitor, Boeing (NYSE:BA) (which has been beset by huge execution problems and was deep in the red for the 12 months that ended in September), is already very prosperous and profitable. In the 12 months that ended in September, Airbus’ net income came in at a staggering 4.15 billion euros. Moreover, in 2022, the European plane maker “…delivered 661 planes and received orders for 1,078 planes, while Boeing delivered 479 jets and received orders for 774.,” TipRanks noted.
And indicating that the overall demand for planes was quite strong in the fourth quarter, General Electric (NYSE:GE) reported today that the orders of its Aerospace unit, which makes plane engines, had surged 20% last quarter versus the same period a year earlier.
EADSY stock has a reasonable forward price-earnings ratio of 19 and a dividend yield “sweetener” of 1.25%.
On the date of publication, Larry Ramer held long positions in MGM and GE. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.