Did you fly into Mexico for a vacation or business in 2012? If so, you weren't alone. Airport traffic, both domestic and international, in Mexico is on the upswing.
It shouldn't be surprising. The Mexican economy was the hottest in North America in 2012 with GDP growth around 4%. Unemployment is just 4.5%, the lowest in 4 years.
Growth has spurred an expansion of the middle class. When the middle class has more money, what do they want to do? Travel.
Some of Mexico's hottest resort areas saw the largest jump in passengers. Cancun International Airport, for example, saw domestic traffic rise 25% in 2012. But it wasn't all about resorts. Monterrey, Mexico's third largest city and its industrial center, saw domestic traffic rise 8.7% last year.
The surge in travel demand is being met by new low cost airlines. Interjet, Mexico's newest low cost carrier which started operating with just 7 aircraft in 2005, told Bloomberg recently it was eying a billion dollar IPO later this year. It plans to grow its 37-airplane fleet to 111 aircraft by 2015. It's also adding 20 new routes, with most of those being domestic, so that it will be servicing 70 destinations this year. The company expects air traffic to increase 50% in the next 6 years.
Interjet is also expanding internationally. In 2012, the company got regulatory approval to fly from 6 U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago and New York City.
3 Stocks To Cash In On Mexico's Economic Take Off
While you're going to have to wait to invest in the low cost airlines like Interjet, there's another way to cash in on the surge in travel. Buy the airport operators.
The airport operators are an interesting niche way to play Mexico's continuing growth. Economists expect Mexico's GDP to grow another 3.5% in 2013. Analysts also expect airport traffic to continue to rise. There's room for more growth as traffic is still under the 2007 Pre-Recession peak.
In the last decade, three companies have come to dominate Mexico's airport market and all three are listed on the American exchanges. They each control certain geographic regions.
Grupo Aeroportuario del Suereste, S.A.B de C.V. (ASR - Snapshot Report)
Grupo Aeroportuario del Suereste, otherwise known as Asur, operates 9 airports in the southeast of Mexico including important tourist hubs of Cancun and Cozumel along with Merida, Villahermosa, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Huatulco, Tapachula and Minatitlan. Cancun has been a big growth hub for the company. Passenger traffic jumped 11% in 2012.
The Mexican government has been intending to build a new international airport near the city of Tulum at the southern end of the Riveria Maya since 2006. In 2011, it was taking bids from domestic and international companies for both the construction and operation of the new airport. The government rejected Asur's bid because it already operated Cancun which is just about 90 miles away. There are still plans for the airport but it's unclear who will get the work.
Asur's stock has been on fire the last 10 years. Since 2003, it has returned over 1000%. It was recently at new all-time highs.
The secret is out and now the stock isn't cheap. The company has a forward P/E of 23 which is well above the average of the S&P 500 which is 13.4.
But there's still growth to be had. Earnings are expected to rise by 23% in 2012 but then fall back to an increase of just 12.6% in 2013.
Asur is a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). It is scheduled to report earnings on Feb 21 so we'll have a better idea on 2013 then.
Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro Norte, S.A.B. de C.V. (OMAB - Snapshot Report)
Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro Norte, otherwise known as Oma, operates 13 airports in the central and northern states of Mexico including Monterrey, one of the industrial centers. It also operates airports in the tourist areas of Acapulco and Mazatlan. It additionally runs a hotel inside Terminal 2 of the Mexico City airport.
Oma has a smaller market cap than Asur and has only been publicly traded since 2006. It has an average trading volume of just 21,000 shares a day.
It's cheaper than Asur, with a forward P/E of 18.5. But shares are also at new 5-year highs and have been surging with the recent market rally.
Earnings growth in 2012 is expected to be a solid 27.6% but analysts are more pessimistic about 2013 growth with EPS climbing just 10%.
Oma is a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) stock. It is also scheduled to report on Feb 21 so this will be one to watch.
Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico, S.A.B. de C.V. (PAC - Snapshot Report)
Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico, otherwise known as Gap, operates 12 airports in the Pacific region, including Guadalajara and Tijuana as well as the tourist destinations of Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, La Paz and Manzanillo.
It also started trading in late 2006 and trades with light volume averaging just 49,000 shares a day. However, it's a mid-cap stock with a market cap of $2.9 billion.
Like its brothers, Gap is trading at new 5-year highs after rallying big in 2012. It's the most expensive of the three, with a forward P/E of 26.
It also has the lowest growth rates. Earnings are expected to climb just 12.2% in 2012 and only 3.7% in 2013.
Gap has the best earnings surprise history of the three, having surprised 4 quarters in a row. It's expected to report earnings on March 4.
Betting On Mexico's Growth
The airport operators aren't the best known Mexican stocks but they are a unique way to play the Mexican growth story. In a country with a growing middle class with extra money to spend, it's likely that travel and transportation will see infrastructure spending and growth.
While shares have seen big run-ups in recent months, the growth story is intact. Growth in air travel is a multi-year story. On pullbacks, the valuations will become more attractive.
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Tracey Ryniec is the Value Stock Strategist for Zacks.com. She is also the Editor of the Turnaround Trader and Value Investor services. You can follow her on twitter at @TraceyRyniec.