This Just In: Goldman Upgrades American Airlines Group Inc.

At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.

But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our supercomputer tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best...
Two weeks ago, investment banker shocked the aerospace sector with an unexpected downgrade of leading airplane manufacturer Boeing. Fast forward 16 days, and Goldman's taking the opposite tack on one of Boeing's biggest customers: American Airlines .

Arguing that "a favorable airline cycle" and improved profit margins will lead to "multiple expansion," Goldman sees a case to be made for buying the unprofitable airline today. Looking past such numbers as American's $1.8 billion fiscal 2013 loss, and its $2.4 billion in trailing, negative free cash flow, Goldman expects AA to surprise its fellow analysts, leading to a spate of "consensus upgrades" that will lead investors back into the stock, sparking a 26% rise in share price to a new target of $46.

I disagree.

Let's go to the tape
While arguably one of the better Wall Street analysts out there today, outperforming about 85% of the investors we track, Goldman Sachs is far from a perfect stock picker. In fact, over the eight years we've tracked its recommendations, Goldman has called more stocks wrong than right, and racked up a record of only 47% accuracy on its picks.

Worse news for American Airlines shareholders, Goldman's record in Airlines stocks is actually worse than its overall average:


Goldman Said:

CAPS Says (out of five possible stars):

Goldman's Picks Beating (Lagging) S&P By:

Republic Airways



(49 points)

GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA



(39 points)

JetBlue Airways

First Underperform...
then Outperform


10 points

Counting recommendations that Goldman has made in airline stocks that ultimately went bust, and are no longer reflected on our scorecard, this banker's record for accuracy in picking airline stocks to "beat the market" stands at a lowly 37.5% -- meaning Goldman has guessed wrong about twice, for every pick it got right.

And call me a pessimist, but I think Goldman's calling it wrong again on this latest endorsement of the recently merged American Airlines.

Valuation matters
Why do I say this? Well, let's take a quick look at the numbers.

Among the big airlines remaining after America's post-9/11 airline merger frenzy, American Airlines is currently the only one reporting negative GAAP profits. Granted, emerging from bankruptcy and after a big merger, American has an incentive to make its past look as bad as possible, lumping in losses so as to make its future profits shine all the brighter. But still -- JetBlue, Southwest , United Continental -- one and all, they're all looking profitable today, while American is not. Delta in particular reported a $10.5 billion profit last year, fully eclipsing the $8.9 billion loss it suffered in the dog days of 2008. So even if we take at face value Goldman's assertion that America's results will look better in the years to come -- AA clearly has a lot of lost ground to make up, if it's to compare favorably to the competition.

Free cash flow, as already mentioned, is firmly in negative territory. And viewing the combined results from pre-merger Airways and AMR (with the exception of the strong three-year span from 2005 to 2008), it seems the merged entity has been burning cash for well over a decade. Meanwhile, the new AA emerges from its merger already carrying more than $11 billion in net debt. That's a heavier debt load than any of its major rivals, and it makes the absence of cash inflows to pay down the debt an unpropitious position to be in.

Foolish takeaway
Long story short -- and granting Goldman's contention that the story could change somewhat if post-merger American Airlines manages to cut its costs -- the numbers as they stand today look very bad for AA. With the stock up well over 100% over the past year, I suspect Goldman's once again going to find itself behind the curve on this recommendation, and is urging its clients to enter the stock just in time to lose money on it.

The greatest thing Warren Buffett ever said
Warren Buffett has made billions through his investing and he wants you to be able to invest like him -- among other ways, by avoiding airline stocks like the plague. Through the years, Buffett has offered up investing tips like this one to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Now you can tap into the best of Warren Buffett's wisdom in a new special report from The Motley Fool. Click here now for a free copy of this invaluable report.

The article This Just In: Goldman Upgrades American Airlines Group Inc. originally appeared on

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 336 out of more than 140,000 members.The Motley Fool recommends Goldman Sachs. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2014 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read Full Story