Shares in British Airways owner International Consolidated Airlines (LSE: IAG) had a fantastic run in February. During the month, investors piled into ‘reopening’ stocks and this pushed IAG’s share price up from 143p to 192p – a gain of 34% (12-month performance to the end of February was -39%).
Is this a stock I should consider for my own portfolio? Let’s take a look at the investment case.
IAG shares: the bull case
IAG was hit hard by Covid-19 last year and continues to be impacted. Recent full-year results, posted on 26 February, showed that in 2020, passenger capacity was just 33.5% of what it was in 2019. As a result of the disruption, the group posted an operating loss for 2020 of €7,426m versus an operating profit of €2,613m in 2019.
Of course, the outlook for IAG is likely to improve this year. Now that vaccinations are being rolled out, we can expect travel to pick up sooner or later. There’s a lot of pent-up demand. This means the airline could potentially return to profit in the not-too-distant future. This would most likely boost the IAG share price.
New Covid-19 risks
However, there are plenty of risks here. While there’s no doubt people want to fly, the recovery may not be straightforward.
While vaccines are being rolled out across the world, the emergence of new, more infectious variants of Covid-19 in countries such as Brazil and South Africa has forced many governments to ban all but essential travel. This could potentially impact Europe’s critical summer season.
It’s worth noting that, last week, global airline industry body International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned the outlook for airlines had actually weakened since its December forecasts. Due to tightening travel restrictions, it now expects the airline sector to still be bleeding cash by the fourth quarter of 2021.
Given the uncertainty in relation to Covid-19, IAG still isn’t providing profit guidance for 2021.
Is business travel coming back?
There’s also uncertainty over the future of business travel, which is where most large-scale carriers make the highest profits. I don’t know if business travel will ever return to what it was pre-Covid-19 due to the fact that a) technology has shown it’s possible to have meetings online and b) companies are trying to reduce their carbon footprints.
“Business travel could be the big ‘if’ for 2021 and 2022 as companies realise that web conferencing calls using Zoom or other platforms could be more productive than spending hours on a plane to different countries for quick meetings,” said AJ Bell’s Russ Mould recently.
Airline stock risks
Finally, it’s worth pointing out history shows that airlines tend to be poor long-term investments. The industry is very capital intensive, and there are many things that can go wrong. You don’t see top UK investors like Terry Smith and Nick Train buying airline stocks. They steer well clear.
My view on IAG shares
I think IAG shares have the potential to keep rising in the near term. If the prospects for the travel industry improve, IAG could benefit.
But this isn’t a stock I’d buy for my portfolio. There are simply too many risks and, historically, airline stocks haven’t been good long-term investments. All things considered, I think there are better stocks I could buy.
The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.