BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Despite all of the uncertainties of the holiday season, one thing's guaranteed as we end 2010: Airports are going to be bustling for the next couple of weeks as millions of people travel to visit family and friends.
Low airfares this year are contributing to moderate growth in holiday travel, as an estimated 2.75 million Americans clog the country's airways between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. And the big beneficiaries in it all will be the airlines.
has long been overdue for airlines.
founder Richard Branson is famous for suggesting that the quickest way to become a millionaire in the airline industry is to become a billionaire in something else first. It's a sentiment that shareholders have echoed of late.
The airline industry has been shellacked in recent years, as record-high fuel prices and swift cutbacks in business and personal travel ate away at profits, putting nearly every legacy carrier in a precarious financial position. But now, after a number of shakeouts and consolidations, airline stocks are starting to show some legs. What better time to go after a short squeeze?
A short squeeze is the buying frenzy that ensues when a heavily shorted stock starts to look attractive again to investors, causing share price to skyrocket. One of the best indicators of just how high a short-squeezed stock could go is the short interest ratio, which estimates the number of days it would take for short-sellers to cover their positions. The higher the short ratio, the higher the potential profits when the shorts get squeezed.
Here's a look at
that have short squeeze potential right now.
United Continental Holdings
has been one of the most high-profile stocks in the industry thanks to the merger this year that brought United and Continental together to form the world's operating airline. While the two companies are still far from being fully integrated, the savings is already projected to exceed $1 billion annually once United and Continental are put together under a single operating certificate.
At present, the company sports a short ratio of 10.4, which suggests it would take more than two weeks for short-sellers to exit their positions at current volume levels. It's important to note, however, that the UAL of today is nothing like the company it was just a few years ago. With a substantially reduced fleet, pared-down debt load and cash-flush balance sheet, the company has made significant strides at reducing its capital requirements and improving the chances of turning a profit (which the company has done for the last two quarters).
With full integration expected in the next 12 months, there's still plenty of upside potential in this stock. And investors like Legg Mason's
are betting on shares. Miller's other current positions include
Recently, United Continental showed up in Stockpickr's
portfolio after Roosevelt Multi-Cap portfolio manager Nainesh Shah said it stood to benefit in the coming year from the
easy money policies.
By offering direct flights from smaller cities to vacation destinations,
is doing an effective job of capitalizing on a niche that's been eschewed by hub-and-spoke legacy carriers as well as discount carriers whose focus is connecting higher-volume cities.
In all fairness, though, Allegiant isn't known for doing things like the rest of the pack -- it's an airline that isn't really an airline, after all. Regardless, the company's short interest ratio of 14.5 means that heavy shorting could help spur a squeeze.
Allegiant is a travel company that uses its own fleet of MD-80s as a way to bypass the limitations of other airlines' routes for its customers. The company boasts bare-bones offerings, with additional costs for extra services such as in-flight meals and assigned seats. That strategy has helped to subsidize the airline business, contributing more than a quarter of revenue and helping to limit the cost of the company's flights. By handling other elements of passengers' flights (such as hotel bookings and rental cars), the company is also able to capture revenue during all points of travel, a crucial difference between Allegiant and traditional competitors.
(PRNHX) is one of Allegiant's biggest institutional shareholders. Other positions for the fund include stakes in
. The stock also show's up in the portfolio of
at Muhlenkamp Fund.
Allegiant is rated buy by TheStreet Ratings, earning the stock a spot in its
A lot has changed since
first took to the air in 2000. The airline was a pioneer in the low-cost airline business, bringing free amenities to passengers just as older airlines were cutting back on in-flight costs. And although shares have been locked in a steady decline since 2003, the stock's short interest ratio of 10.5 could help spur a short-term hike in prices.
While high debt loads and rising fuel costs still pose significant challenges for the carrier, the company has made impressive headwind in recent years, showing investors climbing revenue figures, and clawing out positive income numbers in four of the last five quarters. While the company has lost some of its novelty (its in-flight television service was impressive in 2000, but is less unusual today), its vested exposure to high-traffic markets such as New York should continue to guarantee strong top-line numbers even if economic tailwinds start to flutter.
Such is the hope of investment manager
, who counts JetBlue among his holdings. Other stakes include
To see this week's trades in action, check out the
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
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At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.
Jonas Elmerraji is the editor and portfolio manager of the Rhino Stock Report, a free investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He is a contributor to numerous financial outlets, including Forbes and Investopedia, and has been featured in Investor's Business Daily, in Consumer's Digest and on MSNBC.com.