Continental Loss Widens Amid Fuel Costs

Continental Airlines Inc. (CAL), the nation's fifth biggest air carrier, reported Wednesday that first-quarter losses widened from a year ago due to high fuel costs and weak domestic yields.

The airline lost $184 million, or $2.77 per share, in the January-March period versus a loss of $124 million, or $1.90 per share, a year ago.

Excluding an $8 million gain related to the company's defined benefit pension plan, Continental lost $192 million, or $2.89 per share, in the latest quarter. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for the company to post a loss of $3.10 per share.

Total revenue was up 8.6 percent to $2.51 billion from $2.31 billion last year.

Continental shares rose 7 cents to $12.22 on the New York Stock Exchange (search). Its shares have traded in a range of $7.63 and $14.19 over the past 52 weeks.

Continental said high fuel prices and weak domestic yields continue to adversely impact results despite cost reduction efforts and recent fare increases in some domestic markets. Mainline fuel costs for the quarter increased $137 million over the first quarter of 2004, primarily due to a 39.5 percent increase in fuel prices compared to the same period last year.

"While we lost money in the first quarter, I appreciate the commitment shown by my co-workers who took painful yet necessary action to quickly ratify new agreements," said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner (search). "Even though we still have more work to do, we have made significant progress to move our company closer to profitability."

Passenger revenue totaled $2.3 billion, 8 percent higher than the same period in 2004, due to increased capacity and fares on international flights and more regional flying.

Consolidated revenue passenger miles increased 11.4 percent year-over-year on a capacity increase of 4 percent, which produced load factor of 76.8 percent, up 5.1 points over the same period in 2004.

In the first quarter of 2005, Continental incurred $265 million in fees and non-income related taxes charged on passenger tickets by various governmental entities, up 9.5 percent year-over-year.