United Airlines faces ‘headwinds’ that go beyond the coronavirus outbreak: Argus

United Airlines Holdings (UAL) was downgraded on Monday to a Hold rating from Buy by Argus Research based on a “deteriorating outlook” for the airline amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.

“United Airlines faces multiple headwinds in 2020,” Argus analyst John Staszak wrote. “Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, flight demand had weakened due to the U.S.-China trade war and slower economic growth in China.”

Air travel volume collapsed amid social distancing practices aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus. But even as the economy slowly reopens, Staszak believes the industry is “unlikely to recover while the virus remains a threat.”

Staszak noted that the airline also continues to face pressure from the grounding of Boeing’s (BA) 737 MAX jets along. Furthermore, pilot compensation costs continues to rise.

Argus lowered its United Airlines 2020 earnings per share estimate to $11.10 from $13.25.

Shares of United Airlines were down more than 4% during Monday’s trading session. Year to date, the stock is down about 72%.

[Argus Research is available to Yahoo Finance Premium subscribers. Click here to start your free trial and step up your investing.]

Empty United Airlines ticket machines are shown at the Tampa International Airport Friday, April 24, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. Business at the airport has been at a near standstill due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Earlier this month billionaire investor Warren Buffett revealed during Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting that the company sold its entire stake in the four major airlines, which included United, American (AAL), Delta (DAL) and Southwest (LUV).

Buffett called the investment an “understandable mistake,” and said “the world changed for airlines.”

“The airline business has the problem that if the business comes back 70% or 80%, the aircraft don’t disappear. So you’ve got – you’ve got too many planes,” said Buffett.

Last month United reported a net loss of $1.7 billion for the first quarter of 2020, as the airline industry slashed capacity and air travel demand plummeted amid shelter in place measures world-wide.

Ines covers the U.S. stock market from the floor of the New York Exchange. Follow her on Twitter at @ines_ferre

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