Why I’m Investing in Copa Airlines

The Panamanian company has grown impressively, but the stock is still attractively priced.

My Practical Investing portfolio has included about $15,000 in cash since last spring, when I sold a few stocks. I’ve wanted to put the cash to work but have held back because of the market’s stunning run-up in 2013. But when stock prices started to plunge because of investor anxiety over the government shutdown and the possibility that the U.S. could default on its debt, I started hunting for bargains.

I realize that the bulk of the civilized world loves to buy stocks when prices are rising. But because of my contrary nature, I get nervous when other investors are confident — and I get giddy when everyone else is running for cover. Bottom line: I prefer to shop when stocks are on sale.

The selloff stemming from Congress’s temporary insanity was just what the stock doctor ordered, so I pulled out my wish list of companies, many of which have been recommended by Kiplinger in the past. I settled on an airline called Copa Holdings (symbol CPA (opens in new tab)).

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Copa was one of our picks for The World’s 10 Best Stocks. Much of Copa’s success stems from its location in Panama City, the main crossroads between North and South America. Because Panama recognizes that many of the passengers who land at Tocumen International Airport are just passing through, it doesn’t require them to go through customs or bother with passports or visas unless they leave the airport. That makes Tocumen a favorite hub for travelers in a hurry, and it has helped Copa grow and keep its planes full.

Some key measures of airline perform­ance illustrate Copa’s success. In the first nine months of 2013, the airline reported an 18% gain in revenue passenger miles (filled seats times miles traveled) and a 16% increase in available seat miles (number of seats times miles flown). Copa is planning a major expansion, with five planes on order and options to buy 14 more. Analysts expect earnings to grow by 21% in 2014.

I was delighted to find that, despite this impressive growth, the stock sold for just 12 times estimated 2014 profits. Copa was cheaper than two other well-run carriers, Spirit Airlines (SAVE (opens in new tab)) and Southwest Airlines (LUV (opens in new tab)). Plus, Copa offered a dividend yield of 1.9%; Southwest yielded just 1%, and Spirit, which has made me a bundle, pays no dividend. So on October 2, I bought 100 shares of Copa for about $138 apiece.

Quick Gain

Thanks to the growing popularity of airline stocks, I already have a tidy profit on Copa. By November 1, a month after my purchase, Copa was up to $151.

Aside from that one move, I have left the portfolio alone. But like the market, it’s soaring in value. Some of that, of course, is just the rising tide lifting all boats. Some, however, stems from positive developments at the companies in which I’ve invested.

Corning (GLW (opens in new tab)) has been one of my portfolio’s consistent laggards. But it jumped 14% a day after it announced that it had inked a deal with South Korean electronics giant Samsung that will likely boost its revenues by $2 billion annually.

Microsoft (MSFT (opens in new tab)), another stock in the portfolio, got a lift when it reported that its earnings were better than the miserable results that analysts had expected. The upbeat report also lifted my shares in Intel (INTC (opens in new tab)), which has been desperately trying to diversify its product line so its fortunes won’t forever be linked to those of its partner in the “Wintel” personal computer alliance.

My Practical Investing portfolio, which a month ago was up 36% from its inception, is now up 37%. I’m not complaining, but I have to admit that this relentless stock market rally is making me a little nervous.

Kathy Kristof
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Kristof, editor of SideHusl.com (opens in new tab), is an award-winning financial journalist, who writes regularly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and CBS MoneyWatch. She's the author of Investing 101, Taming the Tuition Tiger and Kathy Kristof's Complete Book of Dollars and Sense. But perhaps her biggest claim to fame is that she was once a Jeopardy question: Kathy Kristof replaced what famous personal finance columnist, who died in 1991? Answer: Sylvia Porter.