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Investing in airline stocks

Airline stocks saw a decade of gains shot down by COVID-19. Are they poised to rise again?

Airline stocks can be lucrative investments during thriving economies when more people take vacations and businesses expand. These can also deliver strong returns when oil costs plummet. But airline stocks are often volatile and can lose altitude in economic downturns.

Today, the global airline industry continues to struggle through the turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with Canadians becoming keen to travel again, could we see a rise in airline stocks? And if so, what are the best airline stocks to invest in?

What are airline stocks?

Airline stocks are the stocks of companies that provide air transportation for passengers and cargo using a variety of aircraft including airplanes and helicopters. Airlines are part of the Industrial sector and the Transportation sub-sector. On the passenger side, a few large corporations dominate the global market. But you can also find smaller, domestic companies that provide discount flights and operate under lower costs.

Investing in the Industrial sector

How to invest in the airline sector

There are several ways your airline stock investing can take flight. You can purchase shares of individual airline stocks or buy shares in an ETF which invests in a basket of stocks.

Here’s how to buy airline stocks:

  1. Choose a stock trading platform. You have plenty to choose from, so be sure to compare your options to find the one that works best for you.
  2. Open your account. Be ready with your ID, Social Insurance Number (SIN) and bank account information.
  3. Fund your account. You’ll need to transfer money to your brokerage account before you can start investing. Some platforms let you start with as little as $1.
  4. Search for stocks. Look up stocks by ticker symbol or use a stock screener to filter the types you’re interested in.
  5. Place an order. Once you’ve found an investment you want, specify how much of it you wish to purchase and submit your order.
  6. Monitor your investments. Track the performance of your portfolio by logging on to your account.

How to buy stocks in a company

Airline stocks

If you’re interested in hopping aboard airline stocks, here are some examples to consider before taking flight.

  • Air Canada (TSX: AC)
  • Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV)
  • Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE: DAL)
  • Transat A.T. Inc. (Air Transat)(OTC Markets Pink Sheets: TRZBF)
  • Air France-KLM SA (OTC Markets Pink Sheets: AFLYY)
  • China Southern Airlines Company Limited (NYSE: ZNH)
  • International Consolidated Airlines Group, S.A. (LSE: IAG.L)
  • Singapore Airlines Limited (SGX: C6L.SI)

What ETFs track the airline category?

If you’re interested in diversifying your portfolio with airline stocks, consider an exchange traded fund (ETF). These are baskets of stocks that come from various companies, sectors and geographies. Many offer exposure to airline stocks, but only one is primarily made up of airline stocks and other companies associated with aviation including aircraft manufacturers, airline operators and airports.

Why invest in airline stocks?

During times of economic prosperity, airline stocks can offer strong returns. People have more disposable income to travel and take vacations. Business operations can also extend to new areas and even new countries. All this can involve airline travel.

In fact, the decade prior to 2020 saw airline stocks flying high. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the projected growth of revenue ton-miles (RTM) for international flights led by US commercial air carriers was about 4% per year from 2020 to 2040.

But lockdowns and travel restrictions following the COVID-19 outbreak all but grounded the rise of airline industry profits and passenger capacity.

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Risks of investing in airline stocks

Investing in airline stocks today can be risky business, especially for day traders, as the industry continues weathering the storm of COVID-19. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects the airline industry to lose more than USD $250 billion by 2020’s end. And it doesn’t expect airlines to see pre-pandemic passenger levels until 2023. The association notes that even in 2025, passenger traffic will stand 10% below what it had envisioned for that year before the pandemic.

At the height of the coronavirus crisis in April 2020, passenger volume had dropped by 96%, a low not seen since the 1950s. For the week beginning November 30, 2020, the global industry’s number of scheduled flights was down by 45.8% compared to the week of December 2, 2019.

For active investors, the state of the airline industry may look gloomy. But long-term investors may be able to buy these stocks at discount prices and see profits when the industry recovers.

The airline industry has flown out of harm’s way before, but it took time. According to A4A, it took America’s airlines 3 years to recover from 9/11 and more than seven years to recover from the global financial crisis of 2008.

But as news of a coronavirus vaccine develops, passengers may feel safer to return to the skies. The IATA noted the airline industry has made it through the hardest part of the pandemic and is on its way to recovery. with air transport revenue expected to reach USD $476 billion in fiscal year 2021 from USD $340 billion in the current year.

Compare trading platforms to buy airline stocks

To invest, you’ll need a brokerage account. Explore your options below.

1 - 6 of 6
Name Product Finder Rating Available Asset Types Stock Trading Fee Account Fee Signup Offer Table description
Interactive Brokers
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min $1.00, max 0.5%
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Moomoo Financial Canada
Finder Score:
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Stocks, Options, ETFs
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CIBC Investor's Edge
Finder Score:
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Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs, GICs, Precious Metals, IPOs
$0 if conditions met, or $100
An easy-to-use platform with access to a variety of tools to help you trade with confidence.
RBC Direct Investing
Finder Score:
3.8 / 5
Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs, GICs
$6.95 - $9.95
$0 if conditions met, otherwise $25/quarter
Enjoy no minimum trading activity requirements and pay just $9.95 per trade or $6.95 if making 150 trades per quarter.
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Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs, GICs, International Equities, Precious Metals
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Bottom line

Airline stocks can soar during strong economies and when oil prices drop. Prior to 2020, the global airline industry was seeing success. But the COVID-19 pandemic, which has rocked the global economy, delivered a particularly damaging blow to the airline sector.

Still, the industry may have weathered the harshest storms as it makes its way toward recovery. This can take years, however. So carefully analyze airline stocks and make sure they can align with your investment goals and risk tolerance. And don’t forget to compare brokerage platforms.

Frequently asked questions about airline stocks

When will airline stocks recover?
Nobody knows when the airline industry may recover, if at all. But industry groups suspect cruise lines to start picking up in 2022 and seeing some major progress by 2025.

Can I invest in airline stock mutual funds?
Yes, you can invest in baskets of airline stocks. A mutual fund example would be the Fidelity Select Air Transportation Portfolio (NASDAQ: FSAIX).

What’s the biggest airline?
In 2019, American Airlines carried the most passengers in North America with more than 215 million passengers.

Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of futures, stocks, ETFs, CFDs, options or any specific provider, service or offering. It should not be relied upon as investment advice or construed as providing recommendations of any kind. Futures, stocks, ETFs and options trading involves substantial risk of loss and therefore are not appropriate for all investors. Trading CFDs and forex on leverage comes with a higher risk of losing money rapidly. Past performance is not an indication of future results. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before making any trades. Read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Target Market Determination (TMD) for the product on the provider's website.

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Javier Simon is a freelance finance writer at Finder and a certified educator in personal finance (CEPF). He’s featured on NerdWallet, Bankrate, Yahoo Finance and Fox Business, where he’s shared his expertise on personal finance topics, such as investing, retirement planning, taxes, budgeting and savings. He has also covered breaking news, such as student loan forgiveness initiatives, the housing market and inflation’s impact on consumers’ wallets. His passion is turning complex financial concepts into actionable content that can help people improve their financial lives. Javier holds a bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism from SUNY Plattsburgh. See full bio

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