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The airline sector roared higher on Wednesday on the heels of United Continental earnings. However, the truth is Jim Cramer didn't actually hear anything positive from management when it reported.
United executives merely talked about expenses rising, namely in jet fuel. It was the rise in oil prices that triggered the spike, Cramer said.
"We all know by now that the airlines actually rally when oil goes higher, because so many money managers view oil prices as the proxy for the health of the economy," the "Mad Money" host said.
It's a crazy correlation, but it's the truth. As soon as the American Petroleum Institute numbers were released after the close on Tuesday, reflecting a large drawdown, there was a jump in the price of crude. For that reason, Cramer knew the airlines would rally again.
There was one line that caught Cramer's attention on United's conference call, spoken by President Scott Kirby, former President of American Airlines. He said the company thinks the revenue environment has bottomed, and is starting to see recovery in all regions — with the possible exception of the Atlantic.
"Given that Kirby just left American, I don't think we are going to hear anything too contradictory about the industry when American Airlines reports tomorrows, so these comments could hold up for more than one day," Cramer said.
Kirby's comments were significant for the industry. When bad numbers are slightly better than the previous decline, and the stock stops going down, Cramer interprets it as a signal that investors are willing to pay up for the stock.
United Continental sells at only 6 times earnings, which is the cheapest in the group.
Analysts recognize this, too—which is why there are now more buy ratings than holds allocated to the stock.
"I suspect that United Continental will now be a 'go-to' name on any market-wide weakness, because portfolio managers who are hung up about sky-high valuations know that UAL is basically the antidote to owning expensive stocks that have had remarkable runs," Cramer said.