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Alaska Air Group, Inc. (ALK), JetBlue Airways Corporation (JBLU): Prepare to Benefit From a Sell-Off in the Airlines

Shares of a few mid-sized passenger airlines have tumbled to various degrees over the past couple of months, declining from peaks reached earlier this year. I believe that the fundamentals for these point-to-point or regional carriers have not changed dramatically, particularly for the long haul. The current operating environment remains favorable, with jet-fuel prices having edged down a bit. It appears that overall market jitters can be blamed for the sell-offs. Thus, current valuations may well represent buying opportunities. Here’s a more in-depth look at the stocks under pressure.

Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) still a top airline selection after flying into turbulence

Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK)

Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK), a Seattle-based carrier, is not only expanding capacity somewhat aggressively, it also is keeping unit costs contained and building its fleet for the long term. Along with boosting the number of Hawaiian routes, it is also adding service out of San Diego. Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) has about 68 aircraft on firm order. Overall, it seems well positioned for continued market share gains and profit increases over the long term, should the environment cooperate.

Where Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) faces a bit of a challenge is that it is up against heightened competition on California-to-Hawaii routes and long-haul Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK)-based departures, while launching start-up routes, as well. All of this adds up to airfare pressure and load factor (occupancy) declines to a modest extent.

Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) remains on pace for a strong earnings gain this year, on increased flying and stable expenses, though the economy and fuel price fluctuations are always factors. As for its three- to five-year prospects, they appear intact and the company should expand at a steady clip over that time. I recommend purchasing Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) shares at their currently subdued price. They are trading at a forward P/E ratio of 8.3x based on 2013 share earnings of $5.40.

JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU) shares retreat, but growth strategy still taking hold

Like Alaska, JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU) plans to expand seating capacity around 7.5% this year, with new service to small- and mid-sized cities. It also plans increased frequency on existing routes, supported by additions to the aircraft fleet. In fact, plans are for 13 new aircraft this year (three Airbus A320s, six Embraer SA (ADR) (NYSE:ERJ) 190s, and four Airbus 321s), bringing the total to about 140.

JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU)’s formidable build-out of its network should continue to be facilitated by operating conditions. In its favor, demand on newly-launched business (higher-fare) routes has been on the rise, allowing for overall slight improvements in yields. Be aware that new service often takes some time to ramp up to profitability. In all, I expect JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU) to perform well over the heavy air-travel June and September quarters, given no severe operating climate changes.

The falloff of JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU)’s share price should be viewed as a temporary lull, and the shares remain a solid long-term holding for more risk-tolerant investors. Its lofty debt-to-equity ratio could limit its means to expand to some degree. The stock is trading at a forward P/E ratio of 8.7x based on 2013 share net of $0.52.

SkyWest, Inc. (NASDAQ:SKYW) stock descends, though earnings exceed expectations

SkyWest, Inc. (NASDAQ:SKYW) provides regional service through agreements with major airlines, as well as holding two passenger airlines and an airline leasing company. Metrics such as passenger miles and load factors are climbing, while unit costs are running substantially lower thanks largely to reduced maintenance outlays.

The company’s revenue base (excluding engine and overhaul reimbursements) will probably continue to expand as it rolls out service according to its agreement with American Airlines, likely soon to merge with US Airways Group Inc (NYSE:LCC). Its share-earnings are on track to grow considerably this year.

SkyWest, Inc. (NASDAQ:SKYW) shares sold off to a lesser extent than those of the previous two carriers discussed. It is not as susceptible to fuel price drops as the others, due to the reimbursement of that cost by the parent entities. I believe the shares have greater earnings stability, however less price upside than the others. It is, nevertheless, a good selection at the current quote. Their forward P/E ratio is 9.4 based on 2013 share profits of $1.26.

Fool’s advice

I continue to like JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU)’s fleet and route expansion strategy to be a catalyst to the share price, and the shares look to have long-term upside. Alaska, too, is apt to benefit from its launching of service to additional destinations, albeit more leisure focused. Alaska Air Group’s stock holds appeal for most investors. Finally, SkyWest, Inc. (NASDAQ:SKYW) fills a growing niche in passenger air travel as well as regional flying between Midwest and Western cities, along with operating ExpressJet, a major regional carrier across the U.S. Its stock’s valuation has dipped somewhat, too, of late and the shares are a worthwhile long-term selection.

The article Prepare to Benefit From a Sell-Off in the Airlines originally appeared on

Damon Churchwell has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Damon is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network — entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

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