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Continental Loss Reflects Economy, Fuel

The carrier lost $136 million, excluding items, but sees Star Alliance benefits.
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lost $136 million in the first quarter, reflecting the impact of a weak economy, higher fuel costs and winter storms.

Excluding items, the fifth-largest carrier reported a loss of $136 million, or 98 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated a loss of 86 cents. Revenue rose 7% to $3.2 billion, in line with estimates.

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Including items, the loss was $146 million, or $1.05 a share. In the same quarter a year earlier, including items, the carrier lost $136 million, or $1.10 a share.

"I'm disappointed with our first-quarter results, which were impacted by the weak economy and the challenges we experienced with weather-related closures of our Newark Liberty hub," said CEO Jeff Smisek, in a prepared statement. "However, the year-over-year increase in our revenue reflects the slowly improving global economy and benefits from our membership in Star Alliance."

Winter storms forced Continental to suspend operations at Newark Liberty International Airport twice in February, resulting in a revenue loss estimated at $25 million.

During the quarter, consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile grew 7.1%, even as capacity was flat. The load factor was a first quarter record 79.5%. Mainline RASM rose 5.4%, led by a 15.6% increase on the Trans-Atlantic. Pacific RASM declined 3.4% and Latin American RASM declined 0.8%.

On the cost side, mainline cost per available seat mile excluding fuel and special charges rose 3.1%. The carrier ended the quarter with $3.15 billion in unrestricted cash and short-term investments.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.