As stock market crash stories go, the Rolls-Royce Group (LSE: RR) one is not pretty. But is there going to be a happy ending? Disappointingly, the Rolls-Royce share price recovery has gone off the boil a little, and the price is down so far in 2021. Over the past two years, the damage amounts to a painful 68% fall.
Rolls-Royce depends on civil aviation for the biggest slice of its income. And while planes were grounded and engines didn’t need maintenance and repair, income for Rolls was hammered. It’s important to remember, though, that that’s not all there is to Rolls-Royce. The firm also has power systems and defence divisions. Still, the grounding of passenger planes was tough.
But things are starting to look better now. Or are they? Folks in the UK seem to be super keen to book their holidays in the sun (almost as keen as they are to get back to the pubs, it seems). And the early 2021 recovery in the Rolls-Royce share price was surely based on anticipation of a sun-seeking summer. Some transport firms, including TUI, have made positive sounds about the prospects for international summer holidays this year. It might happen, and the Rolls-Royce share price could head upwards again.
New Covid fears
But fresh Covid-19 waves have already started around the world. And only this week, the British Prime Minister warned that we’re likely to see a third wave this year. I doubt it will be as devastating as those already past. But I won’t be booking any flights just yet.
The prospects for 2021 don’t really matter too much for me anyway. No, I’m thinking of the longer-term future for the Rolls-Royce share price. About what things will be like in, say, five years. And whether the current valuation of the company suggests the shares are a bargain. And that’s where I’m just not sure.
Firstly, Rolls-Royce did get itself into a sustainable financial situation. At least, I think it did, for now at least. Unless things get stretched and the company has to go back to the markets for a fresh injection of cash, that is. Is that likely? If the aviation business doesn’t get going again fairly soon and Rolls doesn’t see an improving income stream, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Rolls-Royce share price progress?
So when will we see the cash flows needed for sustained Rolls-Royce share price progress? Some observers suggest that aviation could get back to 2019 levels by 2024-2025. But those are among the more optimistic guesses. There’s increasing pressure from climate change too, with carbon emissions targets being brought forward. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if 2019 turned out to be a peak year for leisure flights, not to be equalled for a long time.
So, on the one hand, I’m seeing a company that looks undervalued on the face of it, and that I’ve liked for years. And I think the Rolls-Royce share price could indeed have a strong future. But there are just too many uncertainties between now and next year for me. So no, I’m not going to buy in 2021. Maybe 2022.
Alan Oscroft has no position in any of the shares mentioned. 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.