No frills, low-cost carrier Spirit Airways (SAVE - Get Report) last year was the underdog among the airlines. Its stock lost close to half of its value and as announced recently, the airline came in last on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which measures consumer satisfaction on parameters such as on-time performance, in-flight experience and customer service among other.
This year, the story is different. On a year-to-date basis (YTD), Spirit has been the best-performing stock among the airlines, far outpacing peers Ryan Air, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Air Group and United Airlines, all of which are in the negative. It's a stunning reversal of fortune, making Spirit Airways one of the best growth opportunities not just in the airline sector, but also in the overall market.
With a gain of 15% YTD, Spirit has only been followed by Southwest Airlines into positive territory. Allegiant Travel also had been on a tear, but it's now trading flat after giving up some gains.
Here's why the most hated airline in America should be a part of your wealth-building plan, as the stock gets ready to soar higher in 2016.
Despite a 15% increase in its scores over the previous year's figures, Spirit still came in at the bottom of the customer satisfaction index. However, this doesn't seem to affect the company's financial numbers, which have improved, if anything.
In the most recent quarter too, Spirit continued its trend of beating analyst estimates on earnings-per-share (EPS). Spirit reported EPS of $1.01 versus estimates of 96 cents a share. Revenues in the period rose over 9% from the same quarter a year ago to $538.1 million.
Spirit, which offers competitive rates but does not offer perks like free drinks, snacks and wi-fi, managed to rack up these numbers even as lower fuel prices allowed big airlines to slash their fares closer to Spirit's levels, including the perks.
Spirit increased its capacity by 27% on year in the most recent quarter, but lowering the price to remain more competitive and increasing the number of flights resulted in a fall of nearly 13.8% in unit revenue.
However, savings on fuel costs, and revenues from bag fees and passenger booking fees, among others, helped push up revenues and profits.
Although the airline scores low on passenger satisfaction, customers continue to choose the airline because it offers passengers an inexpensive mode of travel. This cheap fare proposition of Spirit won't change, but as crude prices recover, the lower prices offered by larger carriers will become difficult to sustain. As a result, those who are looking for cheaper options to travel will ultimately return to Spirit, which positions it for growth this year and beyond.
Further, the Florida-based carrier's efforts to improve reach and penetration continue. As it plans to enter new smaller markets and lower the average stage length, Spirit is planning to retain its Airbus A319s longer than initially expected. From its current fleet of 83 aircraft Spirit plans to hit 148 by 2022.
Also, when industry veteran Bob Fornaro took the reins from former CEO Ben Baldanza, he promised to work towards improving customer satisfaction and reliability.
Spirit seems confident of its ability to continue the stellar performance it has displayed this year.
The carrier sees margins improving and expects to deliver 20.5%-to-22% operational margin in the upcoming quarter. For the full year, Spirit expects its capacity to increase 20%, helped by growth in the global markets.
Analysts also seem to echo the optimism. According to a Bloomberg consensus survey, 12 analysts have a "buy" rating on the stock while two have a "hold" rating. None of the analysts have a "sell" recommendation.
They also expect sales to continue to exhibit growth over the next four quarters, pegging revenue growth for the fiscal year at $2.3 billion, up 9% over the year-ago period.
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