HOUSTON, April 15 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL) today reported a first quarter net loss of $124 million ($1.88 diluted loss per share), including previously announced after-tax special charges of $35 million. These results represent a 44 percent improvement over first quarter 2003 diluted loss per share of $3.38.
Excluding the special items, Continental's loss per share was $1.36 for the quarter, which compares to the First Call mean estimate of $1.43 loss per share. The results, excluding special items, are a 51 percent improvement over the first quarter 2003 loss per share of $2.75.
Continuing record high fuel prices severely impacted first quarter operating results. The per barrel price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil jumped about 10 percent in the quarter, hitting a high of $38.18 on Mar. 17, 2004. Fuel prices remain at near record highs, closing at $36.72 per barrel on Apr. 14, 2004. Had jet fuel prices been at Continental's five-year average (1999 to 2003) price, the company's fuel expense for the quarter would have been $102 million less.
"We've made tremendous progress removing non-value added costs from our operations while maintaining a superior product," said Gordon Bethune, chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Airlines. "The outrageously high cost of fuel remains a challenge to our return to profitability."
First Quarter Revenue and Capacity
Passenger revenue improved 11.5 percent to $2.1 billion in the quarter versus the same period in 2003. Additionally, Continental's mainline load factor was up 3.0 points over 2003, to 72.6 percent, while revenue passenger miles increased 10.8 percent on 6.3 percent higher capacity. Mainline yields continued to be weak, decreasing 3.0 percent year-over-year, primarily due to intense competition on transcontinental routes.
Continental's regional operations continue to provide significant growth for the company. Revenue passenger miles for regional operations were up 43.0 percent on a capacity increase of 35.8 percent during the first quarter of 2004 compared to the first quarter of 2003. The regional load factor increased 3.2 points in the first quarter over the same period in 2003, to 64.2 percent.
Continental maintained its domestic length-of-haul adjusted yield and revenue per available seat mile (RASM) premiums to the industry, recording an increase in mainline RASM of 1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004 over the same period last year.
It's not good that they still aren't profitable, but $122 million is definitely better than last year (44% better according to CO