This year has been a good one for the airlines. Most airline stocks have enjoyed a healthy upside.
Among regional airlines, the best performer to date has been Republic Airways Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:RJET), the owner of Frontier Airlines and Republic Airlines. The stock is already up a whopping 104% this year, but I think that it has even more room to grow.
Despite the recent rise in price the stock is still attractively valued at 6.52 its forward Price/Earnings (P/E) multiple. Compare this to two other regional airlines. SkyWest, Inc. (NASDAQ:SKYW) trades at 9.53 forward P/E, while JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU) trades at 9.02 forward P/E. One can argue that the reason for the discount is Republic’s debt, which stands at $1.76 billion and leads to an uncomfortable 3.94 debt-to-equity ratio.
Debt is the reason why Republic Airways Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:RJET) is seeking a buyer for its Frontier Airlines unit. At the latest report, Frontier Airlines had $801 million in total assets. If Republic were able to sell this unit for the price of its assets, it would be able to reduce its debt load by almost half. Still, it is unclear what exact price does the company want to get for this unit. As the airline is profitable, it has time to wait for a good offer.
The fact that oil prices have been stable throughout the year has led to stable aircraft fuel prices. As airline industry has not been a land of big margins for a long time, airlines are sensitive to oil price fluctuations. Republic is operating at an 8.75% margin, which look high enough when compared to SkyWest’s 4.72% operating margin and JetBlue’s 6.62% operating margin.
Back in June, the International Air Transport Association has boosted its 2013 airline industry forecast by almost 20%, expecting better traffic and lower fuel prices. The recent numbers confirm this thesis. Republic has reported that its load factor in June has improved by a full percentage point to 87% compared to a year ago.
Airlines continue to become less dependent on ticket prices, which account for only 70% of revenue. Back at the beginning of the century, this figure stood at 84%. Additional services help airlines draw more money from their customers without hurting their feelings.
Republic Airways Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:RJET) continues to tighten its capacity. Its revenue passenger miles have dropped 4%, following similar cuts at the beginning of the year. These measures have enabled Republic to report a first quarter profit for the first time ever, as the first quarter has historically been the toughest one.
As Republic gets rid of excess aircraft to boost profitability and repay debt, SkyWest was active at the Paris Air Show in mid-June. The company has ordered 100 planes from Embraer. SkyWest has a relatively low debt load in comparison with Republic Airways Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:RJET), so it can freely proceed with expansion. The stock has underperformed this year, up 13%.