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Airline stocks suffer broad selloff as travel demand dips, COVID-19 cases surge

Tomi Kilgore

TSA data show drop in daily average of travelers for the first time since the post-Labor Day bump

Shares of airline operators were broadly and in some cases sharply lower Monday, as the number of weekly travels fell for the first time since the post-Labor Day bump, amid growing concerns over the potential fallout from the surge in new COVID-19 cases .

The number of people going through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints fell to a daily average of 844,217 for the week ended Sunday, from a daily average of 871,513 the week before, according to a MarketWatch analysis of TSA throughput data (link). That's the first decline since the week ended Sept. 20. The daily average had declined back then after it got a boost the week before from increased travel on Labor Day .

The dip in travelers comes as the daily tally of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. rose to records over the weekend, and a number of European countries moved to tighten restrictions (link) as the continent was hit with a spike in cases.

Don't miss: Coronavirus update: U.S. death toll tops 225,000 and Trump's chief of staff says U.S. is 'not going to control the pandemic.' (link)

The U.S. Global Jets exchange-traded fund (JETS) dropped 5.3% in afternoon trading, while the Dow Jones Transportation Average slumped 2.6% with all six airlines components losing ground.

The airline sectors losses underperformed the broader stock market by a wide margin, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 735 points, or 26% and the S&P 500 index lost 2.1%.

Among the more-active airline stocks, American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) sank 6.0%, United Airlines Holdings Inc. shed 7.6% (UAL) , Delta Air Lines Inc. dropped 6.3% (DAL) , JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) slid 7.0% and Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) gave up 4.7%.

Elsewhere, shares of Alaska Air Group Inc. (ALK) dropped 7.8% to pace the Dow transports' airline decliners, Spirit Airlines Inc. (SAVE) fell 8.3%, Hawaiian Airlines parent Hawaiian Holdings Inc. (HA) declined 5.4% and Mesa Air Group Inc. (MESA) was down 5.7%.

Also weighing on airline stocks is uncertainties over a government stimulus, which has been a key driver of the airline sector in recent months.

"U.S. stimulus is not a slam dunk," wrote Raymond James airline analyst Savanthi Syth in a note to clients. "While negotiators are striking a more optimistic tone, our Washington policy analysts continue to see the post-election period as the earliest chance of finalizing a deal, with risks remaining in this scenario tied to the election outcome."

See related: 'It's about midnight' for stimulus deal, key GOP senator says (link).

On the bright side, the daily average of travelers for the weeks ended Sundays reached a post-COVID high of 871,513 for the week ended Oct. 18, which is nearly nine times the post-COVID low of 97,799 for the week ended April 19.

The Jets ETF has now shed 43.9% year to date, but has run up 48% since closing at a post-COVID-19 low of $12.00 on May 15.

-Tomi Kilgore; 415-439-6400;


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

10-26-20 1515ET

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