NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- United (UAL - Get Report) is projecting flat to positive first-quarter unit revenue numbers, distinguishing itself from rivals Delta (DAL - Get Report) and American (AAL), where downturns are either projected or expected.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, United projected that consolidated first-quarter passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) will come in at flat to positive 0.5%. Delta said last week that current quarter PRASM is down 1.5%, reflecting 1.5 points of currency impact. American has yet to report.
In late morning trading Thursday, United shares were up while shares in every other U.S. airline were down due to higher oil prices. United was up 46 cents to $61.01. American fell 72 cents to $48.02. Delta declined 41 cents to $42.88.
Year to date, United is down 9%, American is down 10% and Delta is down 13%.
"This morning's investor update from UAL was a welcome development, as stronger-than-expected domestic PRASM offsets the negative (currency exchange) impact experienced in international markets," wrote JPMorgan analyst Jamie Baker in a note on Thursday.
"The execution of several cost initiatives signals that UAL continues to work diligently to close the margin gap with its legacy peers at DAL and AAL," Baker said.
Meanwhile, Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker wrote, "United is the one network carrier expected to report positive PRASM in 1Q15.
"United has taken a conservative approach towards capacity growth, which has started paying off in terms of their PRASM performance," Becker said in a note. "The industry has reported disappointing data points over the past several months, so it is encouraging that United was able to break that cycle."
So far this year, the bloom is off the rose for airline shares, particularly those of global airlines. Last week, Deutsche Bank analyst Mike Linenberg lowered ratings on the big three to hold from buy.
In a report issued April 1, Linenberg wrote, "We think that international sales will be a source of earnings disappointments for the next few quarters (due to) a strong U.S. dollar, greater-than-expected capacity increases by non-U.S. airlines and decelerating global GDP growth."
Becker wrote Thursday, "We continue to remain somewhat cautious on the group heading into 2Q15 guidance given the difficult year over year comps and fluctuating foreign currency and volatile jet fuel costs." Still, United is her top pick for 2015, with a price target of $83.
American is expected to provide an investor update Friday morning. "American last guided to Q1 PRASM of minus 2% to minus 4% and a pre-tax margin of 12% to 14%," Baker wrote. "Our estimates are at the low end of both ranges."
JPMorgan's Baker on Thursday dramatically increased his first-quarter earnings estimate to $1.46, up from 97 cents. Becker increased her first-quarter estimate to $1.50, up from $1.09. As of mid-morning Thursday, analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters estimated profit of $1.12 a share , with a range of 80 cents to $1.50.