Upbeat Earnings Lift Shares of United Airlines

Strong demand for air travel despite higher airfares lifted the airline's profit in the fourth quarter

United Airlines Aircraft at Terminal

Jeenah Moon / Stringer / Getty Images

Shares of United Airlines (UAL) are trading higher Wednesday after the airline topped earnings and revenue estimates amid strong demand, despite higher airfares.

United reported a fourth quarter profit of $843 million on revenue of $12.4 billion. Revenue was almost 14% higher than in 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and beat analyst estimates of $12.2 billion. Earnings per share came in at $2.46 versus expectations of $2.10 per share. Fourth quarter pre-tax margins for United exceeded 2019 levels as well. Operating margin in the quarter came in at 11.2%.

The carrier also said it is confident it will hit its financial targets for this year. For the first three months of this year, United expects to generate revenue that is 50% higher than last year and first quarter earnings of between 50 cents and $1, ahead of analyst estimates of 25 cents.

Consumers’ appetite for air travel and willingness to pay higher fares has helped lift airlines back into profitability. Last week, Delta Air Lines’ profit and revenue also surpassed analyst estimates. Also last week, American Airlines hiked its profit and sales forecast for the fourth quarter. 

United shares are up 37% so far this year, while Delta (DAL) shares have climbed 17%, and American (AAL) shares have gained over 34%.

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