Airline stocks tumble as illness spreads to South Korea, Italy

Airplanes sit on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on January 31, 2020 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Airline stocks fell Monday as fears about the spread of the coronavirus beyond China added to worries about travel demand and the broader economy, despite a drop in fuel prices.

American Airlines shares led the S&P 500 lower with an 9.8% slide in midday trading, hitting a more than four-month low. Delta Air Lines‘ stock lost 7.2% to the lowest price in nearly four months, while United Airlines was off 4.3%.

All U.S. airline stocks were down more sharply than the broader market. The S&P 500 fell 2.6%.

Close to 80,000 cases of the virus, now known as COVID-19, have been reported along with at least 2,621 deaths. Cases outside of China, where most of the infections are located, have increased, with Italy reporting more than 220 and South Korea confirming more than 830.

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warned citizens not to travel to affected areas, helping drive down shares of European carriers. Budget airline easyJet lost more than 16% while rival Ryanair was down 12%. Deutsche Lufthansa fell 8.8%, British Airways’ parent, International Consolidated Airline Group, was off 9% and Air France-KLM fell 8.4%.

More than 200,000 flights to, from and within China have already been canceled because of the virus, according to aviation consulting firm Cirium, and more disruptions are possible if the virus continues to spread.

The coronavirus is expected to eat into carriers’ revenue this year. Air travel demand globally is set to fall for the first time since 2009 and cost airlines some $29 billion — mostly in the Asia-Pacific region — in revenue, the International Air Transport Association warned last week.

All U.S. carriers have already suspended service to mainland China and Hong Kong because of the outbreak of COVID-19. New cases in South Korea, Iran and Italy have added to concerns about the rapid spread of the virus, as airlines look ahead to the busy travel periods in the second and third quarters.

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