Drop in Business Traffic Hurts Continental

A decline in business traffic pushed Continental Airlines ( CAL) to a first-quarter loss.

The carrier said it lost $136 million, or $1.10 a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated a loss of $1.19 a share. Revenue fell 17% to $3 billion, in line with estimates. In the same period a year earlier, the carrier reported a loss of $82 million, or 82 cents a share.

Excluding $4 million of aircraft-related charges, the loss was in the latest first quarter was $132 million, or $1.07 a share.

The carrier said consolidated average fares dropped 7.4% for the quarter and 16.3% for the month of March, "as many business travelers curtailed travel or purchased lower yield economy tickets."

Consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile fell 12.5%, as capacity fell by 7.6%. Consolidated yield fell by 8.6%. Mainline RASM declined by 11.2% and mainline load factor declined 3 points to 75.8%. RASM declined in every segment, including a 19.3% decline in the Trans-Atlantic.

Cargo revenue fell by 30.3%, while other revenue rose 15.6% or $35 million primarily because of checked bag fees.

On the cost side, holding fuel rate constant and excluding special items, mainline cost per available seat mile increased 0.9%. Fuel expenses declined by $527 million. Continental ended the quarter with $2.65 billion in unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments.

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