Well, I guess we have a moral duty to fulfill our obligation and talk about the cargo and foreign airline sectors and how they did as we wrap up our review of third-quarter results. But we can hardly see over the side of the ship -- there are just way too many bodies jumping off. So we'll complete that series tomorrow.
As for today, there is nothing to say except it's one of the most massive selloffs from the sector that I have ever seen in any one day.
I have had a lot of emails this morning asking about the airline traffic figures -- so I am going to try and explain this situation for everyone.
As you probably know, this selloff of anything that has wings began yesterday when it was reported that traffic for the major airlines was down 1.5% for the month of September. However, this number is really problematic, as we discussed in a
previous column. How come? Because we had a major airline on strike for 20 days in September.
Because the majors lost so much capacity when
was on strike, it was inevitable that the raw traffic number was going to be down. On the other side of the equation, however, it means that every other major airline posted record traffic numbers -- which is just as misleading.
And guess what? If you take out the effect of the strike, both traffic and domestic revenue figures for September were actually up. According to airline analyst Sam Buttrick at
, traffic was probably up about 1.3%, and domestic revenues were up about 2.5%, give or take. These figures are about what Sam had predicted in our earlier column, although he also points out that there was a slowing of traffic near the end of September that was a bit unexpected, and we don't yet know if this has continued into October.
But we are quibbling numbers. Bottom line is this: Domestic revenue growth has been the only thing continuing to fuel earnings for the airlines. As we said in the earlier column, any decline in this growth would be seen as a very big negative.
The announced 1.5% drop in traffic for September was all it took for the markets to see the start of an ongoing decline. A perfect case of "the sky is falling" mentality.
Oddly enough, although the logic is based on skewed numbers, I think the market is pointed in the right direction. Yes, traffic is slowing. But I am amazed at the severity of the selloff today. Especially after the sector has already lost 43% in the last two months. A quick look at the tape reveals such horrors as
, parent of
, down 9%,
Delta Air Lines
, parent of
, down 6.7%,
down 18%, and
And don't forget, as we said last week, it will be another month before we see numbers that truly reflect the magnitude of a slowdown in both traffic and revenues. Boy, I can't wait for that day to get here.
The only silver lining to all this? I have also received a number of emails from some very, very happy short-sellers.
Holly Hegeman, based in Dallas, pilots the Wing Tips column for TheStreet.com
. At the time of publication, she was long Southwest, although positions may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. You can usually find Hegeman, publisher of PlaneBusiness Banter, buzzing around her airline industry Web site, at