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Why Is United Continental (UAL) Up 2.4% Since the Last Earnings Report?

A month has gone by since the last earnings report for United Continental Holdings, Inc.UAL . Shares have added about 2.4% in that time frame, underperforming the market.

Will the recent positive trend continue leading up to their next earnings release, or is the stock due for a pullback? Before we dive into how investors and analysts have reacted as of late, let's take a quick look at its most recent earnings report in order to get a better handle on the important catalysts.

Fourth Quarter Earnings

United Continental Holdings' fourth-quarter 2016 earnings (on an adjusted basis) of $1.78 per share beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate by $0.13. The bottom line, however, plunged 29.9% year over year due to higher costs. In the fourth quarter, the company paid $487 million as income tax, a massive increase from the $82 million paid in the year-ago quarter. Naturally this hurt the bottom-line big time.

Operating revenues of $9,052 million in the fourth quarter were just short of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $9,059.4 million. Revenues increased marginally on a year-over-year basis.

Operating Results

Consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM or unit revenue) declined 1.6% year over year to 12.41 cents. Yield on a consolidated basis declined 1.2% from the fourth quarter of 2015. Passenger revenues increased marginally to $7,761 million. Cargo revenues increased 8.2%, while other revenues dipped 3.3% in the fourth quarter. During the reported quarter, airline traffic, measured in revenue passenger miles, improved 1.6% year over year on a consolidated basis.

Capacity (or available seat miles) grew 2% and led to a 30 basis point decline in load factor (percentage of seats filled with passengers) to 82.4% as capacity expansion outweighed traffic growth. Average fuel price (on a consolidated basis) per gallon, excluding hedge losses, increased 5.3% year over year to $1.6.

Total operating expenses, excluding special items, grew 3.2% year over year to $8.1 billion. Consolidated unit cost, or cost per available seat mile (CASM) - excluding fuel, third-party business expenses and profit sharing - increased 4.1% year over year, primarily due to the labor deals ratified.

Liquidity

United Continental exited the quarter with $5.8 billion in unrestricted liquidity, which included $1.35 billion of undrawn commitments under its revolving credit facility. The carrier generated $658 million in operating cash flow in the quarter under review. Free cash flow at the end of the quarter was $420 million. The metric at the end of 2016 stood at $2.2 billion.

Guidance

United Continental expects consolidated PRASM in the range of -1% to +1% (on a year over year basis) in the first quarter of 2017. Consolidated capacity is projected to increase 1-2% in the first quarter of 2017. Capacity for 2017 is also projected to expand in the range of 1%-2%. The company expects pre-tax margin (adjusted) in the range of 0.5%-2.5% in the first quarter. Unit costs in the first quarter are projected to increase in the band of 4.5% to 5.5% on the back of the spike in labor costs.

How Have Estimates Been Moving Since Then?

Following the release, investors have witnessed a downward trend for fresh estimates. There has been one revision higher for the current quarter compared to three lower. In the past month, the consensus estimate has shifted by -9.75 % due to these changes.

United Continental Holdings, Inc. Price and Consensus

United Continental Holdings, Inc. Price and Consensus | United Continental Holdings, Inc. Quote

VGM Scores

At this time, United Continental's stock has a nice score of 'B', on both growth and momentum front. Charting a somewhat similar path, the stock was allocated a grade of 'A' on the value side, putting it in the top quintile for this investment strategy.

Overall, the stock has an aggregte VGM Score of 'A'. If you aren't focused on one strategy, this score is the one you should be interested in.

Based on our scores, the stock is more suitable for value investors than those looking for growth and momentum.

Outlook

While estimates have been broadly trending downward for the stock, the magnitude of these revisions indicates a downward shift. Notably, the stock has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). We are expecting an above average return from the stock in the next few months.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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