NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- United Continental  (UAL - Get Report) missed earnings estimates by 2 cents, but a leading airline analyst said the miss is meaningless.

Excluding items, United said it earned $461 million, or $1.20 a share. in the fourth quarter. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated $1.22.

"However, it is important to note that some estimates may exclude the impact of United's decision to early terminate a portion of its 2015 fuel hedges," wrote Deutsche Bank analyst Mike Linenberg, in a note. "We believe that equates to at least a 20-cent-per-share headwind in the Dec Q.

"The result represents a 54% improvement versus last year's EPS of 78 cents," excluding items, Linenberg wrote.

In premarket trading on Thursday, United shares were up 3%.

Linenberg also said not to worry about United's current quarter guidance for passenger revenue per available seat mile between minus 1% and 1%. This "may be cause for concern among some investors, (but) we suggest they focus on the pretax margin guidance of 5% to 7%," Linenberg wrote.

"That guidance implies margin expansion of 11.6 percentage points compared to (first quarter) 2014 and 9.8 points compared to (first quarter) 2013," he said.

Linenberg also said "investors should be pleased by the flattish cost outlook" for the current quarter and full year. United said cost per available seat mile, excluding fuel, special charges and profit margin, increased 1.2% during the quarter. For the full year, the carrier said, CASM ex-fuel and items will be flat.

Linenberg has a buy on the shares and an $80 price target.

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-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.