Market Overview

How Has Berkshire's Surprise Bet On Airlines Panned Out So Far?

How Has Berkshire's Surprise Bet On Airlines Panned Out So Far?

After more than 70 years of being studied, emulated and critiqued, the world’s richest investor, Warren Buffett, still takes Wall Street by surprise every now and again.

For years, Buffett ignored airline stocks. But, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. ’s Q3 13F filing revealed that the Oracle of Omaha had gone all in on several major U.S. airlines, including Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE: DAL), United Continental Holdings Inc (NYSE: UAL), American Airlines Group Inc (NYSE: AAL) and Southwest Airlines Co (NYSE: LUV).

Buffett’s stakes in Delta, United and American were taken as of September 30, and his stake in Southwest was taken as of the end of October.

Success So Far

In classic Buffett fashion, Berkshire has nailed the airline trade so far. Since September 30, American, United and Delta stocks are all up 28–40 percent. Southwest is also up 28 percent since the end of October.

After soaring in late 2017, Cowen analyst Helane Becker believes 2017 will be more of a grind for airline stocks. “We believe the airline industry can continue to re-rate higher, but given the sharp move in multiples in 4Q16, the stocks will likely take a breather first,” Becker explained.

Delta is already off to a strong start to 2017, releasing updated Q4 unit revenue guidance in the negative 2.5–3.5 percent range compared to previous guidance in the negative 3–5 percent range.

Of course, longer-term airline investors can take comfort in the fact that Buffett rarely takes a large stake in an industry without the intention of holding his shares for at least several years before selling.


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