Why Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc. Are Losing Altitude

Is this meaningful? Or just another movement?

Jeremy Bowman
Jeremy Bowman
Apr 24, 2014 at 3:32PM

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc (NASDAQ:UAL) were falling today, down as much as 10% after posting an underwhelming earnings report this morning.

So what: The airline giant turned in an adjusted per-share loss of $1.33 as CEO Jeff Smisek said the performance was "well below what we can and should achieve." The loss was actually slightly better than estimates at $1.35, but those had been sharply reduced in recent weeks. Offering an excuse, the company blamed $200 million of the $489 million loss on severe winter weather. Revenue was down slightly, falling 0.3% to $8.7 billion, just below expectations at $8.71 billion, and revenue per average seat mile was down 2%. 

Now what: Despite the poor weather, many of United's rivals reported excellent results in the first quarter, and the company still seems to be struggling to streamline itself following its merger with Continental in 2010. Smisek acknowledged that the airline still has too many parallel technologies, and that customer service has been lacking. United has the unfortunate distinction of being more susceptible to winter weather than other airlines as all of its hubs are in cold-weather cities, and the first quarter is generally the worst in the airline industry. Investors may want to wait and see if management can improve results over the next quarter or two.