shares jumped Monday after the airline released a bullish revenue report that caused analysts to revise estimates for the company.
Continental said late Friday that mainline unit revenue, which excludes regional flights, was up between 4.5% and 5.5% in March from a year before, outpacing analyst forecasts. Overall unit revenue was up between 4.0% and 5.0%.
In reaction, shares were up 31 cents, or 2.7%, at $11.92 Monday. Most other airline stocks were down, although
also rose, up 31 cents, or 3.0%. Investors may have viewed Continental's report as further confirmation of American's recent optimistic forecast for first-quarter revenue.
Continental's revenue report helped prompt Merrill Lynch's Michael Linenberg to raise his 12-month price target on shares to $18 from $14. The analyst, who also cited Continental's
recent securing of labor savings, had expected the airline's mainline unit revenue to increase 3.5% to 4.5% in March. (Merrill Lynch does and seeks to do business with companies covered in its research reports.)
"We estimate that Continental made a small profit of about $10 million for the month of March," Linenberg wrote in a research note.
Profits have become rare for the industry, which logged billions of dollars in losses last year as fuel prices skyrocketed. Up until about a month ago, carriers had difficulty raising fares to offset high fuel costs, although recent rounds of fare hikes have proved successful, providing some relief.
Linenberg is reducing his first-quarter loss estimate for Continental to $2.85 a share from $3.20 a share.
In its report, Continental made clear that the March unit revenue increase benefited by 2.0 to 3.0 percentage points because Easter fell during the month this year. The Easter shift will have a corresponding negative impact on April's unit revenue, the airline said.