Almost every company could use some positive developments following the novel coronavirus. Arguably, General Electric (NYSE:GE) needs it the most. Even before the pandemic, the once-mighty industrial giant needed everything to go smoothly to lend credibility to its low-probability recovery initiative. But like with the pandemic, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for GE stock.
As the health crisis spread, General Electric saw much of its market value evaporate over a matter of days. In that, it was much like so many other publicly traded companies. But the extra cruelty for investors who were still holding the shares, GE stock couldn’t even get a proper dead cat bounce. While it briefly managed to get itself out of the hole from its March lows, shares again suffered pressure. Last month, they hit a low that was more shocking than what transpired in March.
However, the market gods appeared to show some mercy. Recently, Boeing (NYSE:BA) saw its equity value rise dramatically as the beleaguered company was able to keep two of its 737 Max jetliner customers on the books. SMBC Aviation Capital and AerCap (NYSE:AER), both aircraft leasing firms, decided to defer delivery of their Max orders.
True, a deferral isn’t the best outcome. But when you have a sea of cancellations to contend with, deferrals keep the business running. And this has very encouraging implications for GE stock. As you know, General Electric makes the LEAP engine that underlines the Max.
So, is this an opportunity to jump back into the GE recovery story? I’m afraid not. We have to remember that General Electric was already hurting from the Max fatalities that grounded the otherwise popular jet. Now, we have a pandemic that almost ensures a drawn-out recovery process.
Passenger Volume is a Serious Threat to GE Stock
If that doesn’t give you pause about General Electric stock, consider that one of the reasons traders gambled on it last year was the anticipation that the Max would fly again soon. Sure, passengers were worried, but they typically tend to forget about travel-related disasters, perhaps because they are such low-probability events.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the coronavirus. Although you’re very unlikely to contract Covid-19 on any given day, situational probabilities increase depending on your circumstances. For instance, if you’re in a flying tube where social distancing is all but impossible — even with unoccupied middle seats — the risk of infection is presumably far greater than quarantining at home.
Needless to say, without air travel demand, GE stock is stuck in a battle of inevitability. Currently, airliners see little reason to purchase new aircraft with passenger volumes at ridiculously low levels. Yes, we’ve seen photos of packed airplanes. However, this stems from air carriers cutting redundant routes to avoid racking up unnecessary costs.
Interestingly, it’s the same recovery narrative — that demand will eventually return soon — that has driven not only GE stock but also direct players like United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAL) and Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL). But does the data support such optimism?
I’m skeptical. On May 31, the Transportation Security Administration screened just under 353,000 passengers. This is a huge lift from the lows of April, when the TSA on some days screened fewer than 100,000 flyers. However, this recent figure only represents less than 14% of travel demand from the year-ago period.
Moreover, travel demand has overall been moving very slowly. In the first half of April, the daily number of passengers screened was only 4.4% of the year-ago level. This metric improved to 7.6% in the first half of May, and to 11.5% in the second half of May.
Still, these are terrible figures. Simply put, the airliner industry as it stands cannot survive on a fraction of the demand typically carried. Worse yet, we just don’t know when demand will truly normalize, placing GE stock in limbo.
Social Unrest is Another Shocking Headache
As if that wasn’t bad enough, just when most states — including the powerhouses like California and New York — were on the cusp of reopening vast portions of their economies, a wave of protests swept the nation.
Granted, the calls for social equality and justice are incredibly compelling and relevant during this fractured time. Further, these protests will probably continue for longer than many might imagine. Truly, they reflect not only racial struggles, but class struggles as well. Keep in mind that millions of Americans are still unemployed.
But for GE stock, this is again another example of unwanted developments. First, these protests — some of which have turned shockingly violent — dissuade air travel. Again, without this demand, the need for airplane engines diminishes.
Second, I can’t help but notice that social distancing and protesting don’t go hand-in-hand. Therefore, I think it’s only fair to assume that coronavirus cases will accelerate. Worryingly, new daily cases in the U.S. stubbornly remain at the 20,000 level. I’m sure the protests aren’t helping matters.
So, if we do have second wave of the coronavirus, the travel industry will surely succumb to revamped fears. And that might be it for GE stock. While I’m sympathetic to the company’s recovery efforts, there are too many variables at work here.
A former senior business analyst for Sony Electronics, Josh Enomoto has helped broker major contracts with Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the past several years, he has delivered unique, critical insights for the investment markets, as well as various other industries including legal, construction management, and healthcare. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.