unit revenues were flat to slightly higher in November, indicating the hyper-competitive industry environment continues to prevent airlines from raising fares significantly.
The world's sixth-largest airline said it filled more seats on its flights last month, as demand outpaced supply. Its mainline load factor, a measure of seats filled, was 77.6%, up 2.3 percentage points from a year ago. Mainline operations exclude Continental's smaller regional flights.
Traffic -- a measure of demand expressed in revenue passenger miles, or RPMs -- rose 10.1% year over year, while capacity -- a measure of supply expressed in available seat miles, or ASMs -- increased 6.9%.
Continental estimated mainline unit revenue -- a key industry metric known as revenue per available seat mile, or RASM -- increased between 0.0% and 1.0% from a year earlier. Unit revenue for the airline's consolidated operations, which include regional flights, grew between 0.5% and 1.5% year over year, the airline said. Both figures benefited by approximately 2 percentage points from Thanksgiving's occurrence earlier in the month this year. That meant last month's figures included holiday return traffic on the Monday and Tuesday following the holiday.
The monthly RASM figure was better than the decline of 0.5% to 1.5% forecast by Merrill Lynch's Michael Linenberg. But it proved disappointing for J.P. Morgan's Jamie Baker.
"Frankly, we had hoped for more," Baker wrote in a research note. "Given early October fare activity, we had expected greater evidence of pricing traction by this point. No such luck. While Continental's yield decline is slightly less than in prior months, only RASM matters -- and on that metric, little has changed. Continental's monthly trends are thus far in line with our prevailing $2.25
fourth-quarter loss forecast." (J.P. Morgan does and seeks to do business with companies covered in its research reports.)
Even though passenger demand has risen in recent months, U.S. airlines have had a tough time raising fares because of industry overcapacity and tough price competition.
Continental shares finished Wednesday's session up 97 cents, or 0.9%, at $12.11.