United Airlines shares rise on improved earnings forecast, quarterly beat

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A United Airlines airplane takes off at Newark Liberty Airport.

Gary Hershorn | Getty Images

United Airlines Holdings on Tuesday raised its earnings forecast for the year as travel demand continued to climb, boosting shares in after-hours trading.

The airline’s performance puts it “ahead of pace” to meet its per-share earnings goal of $11 to $13 by the end of 2020, United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a release.

The Chicago-based carrier raised its forecast for 2019 earnings to $11.25 to $12.25 a share, up from its previous forecast of $10.50 to $12. Shares were up 2% after United released the results.

United’s third-quarter net income jumped nearly 23% to more than $1.02 billion from the year-earlier period on revenue of $11.38 billion, an increase of 3.4% from a year ago, but below the nearly $11.42 billion analysts expected.

United, like rivals American and Southwest has been forced to cancel thousands of flights due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max. Last week, United joined those carriers in taking the Max out of its schedules until January as the grounding drags on.

The grounding of the plane, now in its eighth month, has weighed on airlines’ growth plans. United said it expects to increase capacity by 3.5% this year, below the 4%-6% annual capacity growth it targeted.

The airline didn’t mention the Max in its earnings release but it is likely to be a question on the call with analysts, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday.

Revenue per available seat mile, a key industry metric that measures how much an airline is earning for each seat it flies a mile, rose 1.7%, in line with United’s forecast over the summer. United expects this metric to rise no more than 2% in the fourth quarter.

United’s earnings per share came in at $4.07 on an adjusted basis, compared with $3.97 a share Wall Street analysts estimated.

The carrier said it bought back $363 million of its shares in the quarter at an average price of $88.22. United’s stock is up about 5% so far this year as of Tuesday’s close. Major U.S. airlines across the board lag the broader market as they struggle to convince investors that they can grow profits and keep a lid on rising costs.

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