United’s losses mount but airline expects to surpass 2019 margins in 2023


A Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by United Airlines takes off from Los Angeles International Airport.

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United Airlines on Wednesday posted a fourth-quarter loss and warned sales would continue to suffer in the early part of 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

Here’s how United performed in the quarter, compared with what Wall Street expected, based on average estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted earnings per share: a loss of $7 versus an expected loss of $6.60 a share.
  • Revenue: $3.41 billion versus expected $3.44 billion in revenue.

United’s fourth-quarter revenue fell 69% from a year earlier to $3.41 billion, below analysts’ estimates of $3.44 billion. Its net loss of $1.9 billion in the quarter compares with a $641 million profit a year earlier.

The Chicago-based airline reported an adjusted loss of $7 a share, compared with estimates for a loss of $6.60 per share. It burned about $33 million a day on average in the quarter, including debt and severance payments.

The carrier isn’t expecting a quick turnaround early this year. First-quarter revenue will likely come in 65% to 70% below 2019 levels, the airline said. It estimated first-quarter capacity will be down at least 51% below the same months of 2019, echoing a similar outlook from American Airlines.

United’s shares were down 1.5% in afterhours trading following the report.

Airline executives have said widespread availability of coronavirus vaccines will fuel a recovery in air travel. But the vaccine rollout has been slow and chaotic, marked by a shortage of doses.

United executives will hold a call to discuss its revenue and outlook at 10:30 a.m. ET Thursday.

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