Updated from 8:20 a.m. EDTUnited Airlines parent UAL ( UAUA) reported a second-quarter profit for the first time since 2000, and said it could perform even better were it not for the reduced pricing introduced a year and a half ago by a competitor. "We're still dealing with the damaging remnants of Delta's ( DALRQ) simplified fares," said Executive Vice President John Tague on a conference call. "While many components have been eliminated, we still have these eliminations of minimum stays in the business markets that are enormously damaging." Delta introduced "SimpliFares" in January 2005, forcing most carriers to match. While AMR's ( AMR) American Airlines has said similar pricing enabled it to draw passengers from low-fare competitors, Tague said United's results would improve if the pricing policies disappeared. Nevertheless, United reported strong earnings Monday, matching week-old guidance. The second-largest airline said it earned $119 million, or 93 cents a share, in the second quarter, compared with a loss of $1.4 billion, or $12.33 a share, a year ago. The year-ago period reflects UAL's prereorganization predecessor and includes a $1.4 billion charge related to its bankruptcy. Excluding a severance charge, United earned $1.09 a share in the most recent quarter. Second-quarter revenue rose 16% to $5.1 billion, missing the Thomson First Call estimate by about $300 million. UAL's shares fell $1.38, or 5%, to $26.14. United reported its first full quarter after emerging from bankruptcy Feb. 1. The company said it not only boosted revenue but is also ahead of schedule for implementing about $400 million in cost reductions. "Today's results demonstrate the progress we're making," said CEO Glenn Tilton. Tilton responded to comments last week by CEO Doug Parker of US Airways ( LCC), who said his might have interest in a merger in the final stages of the bankruptcy cases of Delta or Northwest Airlines ( NWACQ). While United remains focused on its own improvement, "We wouldn't put ourselves in a position of being disadvantaged were the process to begin more robustly than it has so far," Tilton said.
United said revenue and productivity improvements more than offset a $344 million increase in fuel expenses. Revenue per available seat mile increased 12% from the same quarter a year earlier. Mainline load factor was 84.9%, up 1.5 points. Cost per available seat mile, excluding fuel and one-time charges, was 7.64 cents, an increase of 1.5% from the same quarter a year earlier. Operating margin, excluding one-time items, improved to 5.5% from 1.5%. In a report issued Monday, Calyon Securities analyst Ray Neidl said that while United "appears to be turning the corner to returning to consistent profitability, it still has more work to do to catch up to and surpass its peers." Neidl maintained a neutral rating on the stock, saying UAL trades at a premium to American and Continental ( CAL). United ended the quarter with unrestricted cash and short-term investments of $4.2 billion, and a restricted cash balance of $900 million. "This is the most significant cash position the company has been in historically, and we intend to enjoy it for a while," Tilton said.