I'm really pleased to see Continental Airlines
Results for the second quarter were pretty solid. Revenue rose 12% over the same period last year as traffic ticked up more than 7%. Capacity and traffic also came into better balance during the quarter, and the company saw the mainline load factor improve to 80.4%. While fuel costs continue to thump expenses, savings on wages and salaries helped boost the operating margin. As a result, operating profit nearly tripled to $119 million.
Continental continues to tinker with the business; for instance, it's decided to add more first-class seats to its Boeing 757-300 aircraft. Other actions, like adding winglets that reduce drag and boost fuel efficiency, should help improve the cost structure.
Certainly those mavericks and contrarians who bought the stock below $10 should be feeling pretty happy today. But the question before all of us now is whether or not things will continue to improve.
I'll chime in with a guarded "yes." It does appear that air travel demand is picking up for regular retail fliers and business fliers alike. What's more, an ongoing difficult environment is likely to lead to some additional industrywide capacity reductions, whether through bankruptcy or scaled-down operations.
On the flip side, though, this is an industry with a history of slitting its own throat. Even on today's call, management indicated that it wasn't going to allow rival airlines to underprice the company. What's more, fuel costs are still a major drag on results, and Continental isn't completely out of the woods yet in its efforts to enhance liquidity and profitability.
When all is said and done, I'm just not sure there is a sufficiently compelling reason to chase Continental shares. There are at least several dozen interesting companies out there that have solid earnings and don't compete in industries with a legacy of fratricide. My hat's off to those brave and opportunistic enough to make a great play on these shares, but I'm reminded of the lesson concerning what happens to those who play with fire too often.
More uplifting takes on the airline business:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).
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