Continental Airlines ( CAL) reported improved pretax income in the fourth quarter despite rising fuel costs. The Houston-based carrier said fourth-quarter pretax profits, excluding special items, were $24 million, compared with a pretax loss, again before items, of $4 million a year earlier. Continental said Wednesday it will report final results by mid-February. Before it can do that, it has to compute a charge to boost its tax valuation allowance because its pension liability will decrease following the extension of pilots' retirement age to 65. Fourth-quarter revenue rose 11.6% to $3.5 billion, in line with analyst expectations. During the quarter, consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile rose 6.7%, as capacity climbed 4.7%. Mainline passenger RASM rose 6.9%, paced by a 10.9% increase in the trans-Atlantic and a 6.4% gain in Latin America. "We continued to grow our passenger revenue at a pace significantly greater than our capacity growth," said President Jeff Smisek, in a prepared statement. Load factor was 79.4%, down 0.4%. On the cost side, mainline cost per available seat mile rose 4.1%. Holding fuel expenses constant, CASM fell by 2.9%. The carrier said its annualized fuel costs increased by approximately $45 million for each $1-per-barrel rise in the price of crude. For the full year, excluding special items, pretax income was $542 million, up 78%.