Airline stocks fall on Trump's move to end stimulus talks

Washington/Chicago

SHARES of major airlines fell on Tuesday after US President Donald Trump said his administration would abandon talks with congressional Democrats over proposals to spend at least US$1.6 trillion in additional coronavirus relief funds.

A key component was a new US$25 billion bailout for US passenger airlines to keep tens of thousands of workers on the job for another six months. A prior US$25 billion airline payroll support programme expired on Sept 30.

American Airlines, whose shares had been trading higher, reversed course to close about 4.5 per cent lower after Mr Trump's tweet on ending talks, while shares of United Airlines closed 3.6 per cent lower. Southwest Airlines stock fell 2.4 per cent and Delta Air Lines shares closed 2.9 per cent lower.

American Airlines and United Airlines last week began laying off 32,000 workers, but had said they would reverse course if lawmakers reach a deal.

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International president Sara Nelson said: "Trump issued one tweet to blow up the deal and leave millions of essential workers in freefall. Senate Republicans will own this cruel maneuver that puts our economy in a tailspin unless they demand Covid relief now."

US airlines are collectively burning about US$5 billion of cash a month as passenger traffic has stalled at around 30 per cent of 2019 levels. After tapping capital markets, they say they have enough liquidity to last them at least 12 months at that rate.

Between voluntary and involuntary furloughs, major US airlines' workforce will shrink by at least 25 per cent in October.

Industry experts expect a slight improvement in domestic demand over the winter holidays from current levels, but it will remain far below last year's volumes. Meanwhile, higher-margin business and international travel remain severely depressed.

Chief executives acknowledge that pre-pandemic air travel demand is unlikely to return for years, and still unknown is how the pandemic, which has forced drastic changes in habits, will impact travel behavior.

American Airlines will end service to 11 smaller airports on Wednesday after Congress failed to approve additional aid.

Congress is expected to return to session on Oct 19 and lawmakers may make a new attempt to pass a standalone measure to provide the US$25 billion sought by airlines but the prospects are uncertain, even though the airline relief enjoys strong support in both the House and Senate. One remaining issue is how Congress would pay for the new funding, a senior congressional aide told Reuters Tuesday. REUTERS

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