United Continental(UAL) - Get Report may insist that the skies are friendly, but the federal government hasn't proven so amicable to the Chicago-based airline conglomerate. Who will be the investor's friend?
Late yesterday, United reported that it will record a non-cash charge of $412 million in the second quarter of 2016, or $264 million after income taxes, thanks to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruling that will loosen the company's stranglehold on one of America's busiest airports.
Until now, about 70% of all air traffic in and out of Newark Liberty International Airport was through United. Of the around 1,200 takeoff and landing authorizations granted by the FAA, United controlled 900. The next-largest airliner: no more than 70.
That led the feds to decide that this near-monopoly was leading to higher fare prices for customers. Newark had the highest average fare ($459) among the largest airports in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2015.
Now Newark will be opened to more carriers, increasing competition in a bid to lower fare prices. Already, Allegiant (ALGT) - Get Report and JetBlue(JBLU) - Get Report , lower-cost airlines, have announced new flights out of Newark.
Despite the write-down, is United a worthwhile investment? Deutsche Bank certainly thinks so. Analysts at the bank have released a report urging investors to purchase shares in the mega-liner, as well as the two other largest U.S. air carriers, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The bank contends that the airlines are poised for a comeback, following one of the biggest annual industry declines in years.
"In light of the current valuations, we think downside is limited and that therefore investors can afford to be early given the rapidity in which airline share prices can appreciate once it becomes apparent that trends are indeed getting better," Deutsche Bank said.
However, there are quicker and more exciting gains to be made by playing other airliners. Some of the biggest profits will come not from the major carriers but from the smaller discount liners. Look to Allegiant and JetBlue for potential profits. These companies are poised to gain a significant number of new passengers from their increased presence at Newark.
As well, discount carrier Spirit is busy revamping its business, raising prices and increasing efficiency. Its stock is among the best performing in the industry, realizing year-to-date gains of more than 23%. By comparison, United is currently sitting on a year-to-date loss of more than 17%.
Spirit has reportedly expressed interest in grabbing some of the newly opened slots at Newark. That would open this discount carrier -- and its investors -- to some major growth and profits.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.