After taking a beating yesterday afternoon when President Donald Trump tweeted that he was instructing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to end coronavirus stimulus talks with House Speak Nancy Pelosi, airline stocks are bouncing today after a late-night tweet from the President urged Republicans and Democrats to pass a $25 billion bailout package for airlines that would head off mass layoffs already announced by those companies.
American Airlines (AAL), for example, was up by 4.35% at 2:30 p.m. New York time today, October 7, after closing down 4.50% yesterday October 6. Today shares of Delta Air Lines (DAL) were up 3.44% and shares of United Airlines (UAL) were ahead 4.34%.
Ok, I get it. Today investors and traders have decided to believe that an airline bailout 1) will get done in relatively short order, and 2) that an airline bailout deal would increase the odds of Congress passing more coronavirus stimulus. Maybe the $1200 check that President Trump also ordered Congress to pass in a tweet or a renewal of the Payroll Protection Program for small businesses also ordered in a Presidential tweet.
But I think the optimism is wrong.
About the airlines for two reasons.
First, even if any of these measures passed the House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, there’s no guarantee that they would pass the Senate, controlled by Republicans. The vote count still says that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t have enough Republican votes to pass any of this in the Senate. The Senate has already voted against a stand-alone airline bailout and opposition to spending any more money on any sort of coronavirus stimulus runs deep among Republican Senators. And then, of course, there’s the big question of why Nancy Pelosi after arguing so strongly against breaking the House-pass coronavirus stimulus bill ($3.4 trillion in the first version and $2.4 billion in a second version) into standalone parts would now agree to passing a few pieces of the bill and giving up her leverage to get money for coronavirus testing and aid to state and city governments.
The market today is acting like this is a done deal–again. Investors are counting their chickens not just before they’re hatched but before the eggs are laid.
Second, the big problem for the airlines, one that $25 billion for paying employees doesn’t begin to address, is that nobody flew this summer–decimating revenue from the summer vacation season–and nobody is flying this fall–dropping revenue from the fall season’s all-important business traveler into a dark, deep hole. The best-case scenario, airline industry consultant Boyd Group, told the New York Times is that domestic airline traffic returns to 50% of its pre-pandemic level by 2021. And that’s the best case scenario. Kiss it goodbye if we get the fall spike in coronavirus cases that seems to be unfolding.
All this is why I’m keeping on my buy in my Volatility Portfolio on JubakAM.com and JugglingwithKnives.com for the January 15, 2021 Put options on American Airlines with a strike price of $12 that I posted last night. As I explained in my Special Report on JubakAM.com it has been hard to pin down a good entry price. Last night I decided to go ahead with the buy even though the underlying shares hadn’t hit my “above $13” target. (They closed yesterday at $12.53.) Today the shares were trading at $13.08 at 2:30 p.m. New York time. Put options tend to be cheaper–all things being equal–when share prices are higher. So buying at $13.08 is “better” than at $12.53 (even if ultimately you’re looking for the share price to fall below $12.) I added more of this Put option to my personal portfolio today.
About a comprehensive coronavirus stimulus for one reason.
Without the President holding the feet of Republican Senators to the fire there is no chance of getting anything more than the $25 billion airline bailout through the Senate. Yesterday’s tweets from the White House, completely undercut Treasury Secretary Mnuchin as a negotiator. And the way that the President blind-sided everyone in his own party with the original “no more talks” tweet–and then re-blind-sided everyone with the late night “order” to pass the airline bailout, and a new $1200 check, and a new round of small business aid–has seriously diminished the administration’s ability to move anything in Congress. Who would trust any deal that the White House said it was backing to last for more than a Twitter cycle?
I think that leaves us with no comprehensive coronavirus stimulus package until after the election at the earliest and more probably not until January.
That will give current negative trends in the economy–and with the pandemic–plenty of time to go from bad to worse.