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Lehman Ups Northwest, AirTran Ratings

Lehman Brothers upgraded Northwest Airlines (NWAC) and AirTran (AAI) to overweight from equal-weight, and downgraded Delta Air Lines (DAL) to equal-weight from overweight.

Analyst Gary Chase sees the beginning of a gradual, but powerful airline upcycle. He says two well-managed carriers, however, have underperformed the rest of sector: Northwest and AirTran.

Chase thinks SARS fears have dampened enthusiasm for Northwest shares of late; while heavily exposed to Asia, he believes Northwest will not suffer permanent damage from SARS; he fully expects shares to close the gap with the rest of the sector.

Also, Chase says AirTran is a very well-managed low-fare carrier with a lot of valuation upside on continued execution. He has a $16 target for Northwest, and a $13 target for AirTran.

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