The S&P 500 isn't doing much today, yet the stock of United Continental (UAL 72.60, +4.12, +6.0%) is flying after the airline updated its fourth quarter outlook and received some added backing from the analyst community.
Specifically, United provided an operational update for December that was replete with the characterization that it was the "best-ever December" for its operation.
The December performance included a first place ranking among competitors in mainline on-time departures, completion factor and on-time arrivals. For the month, revenue passenger miles rose 2.7% while available seat miles increased 3.7% versus the same period a year ago.
Coming out of December, United expects its fourth quarter consolidated passenger unit revenue will be about flat compared to the year-ago period. That expectation, which has flowed from stronger yields and better close-in demand, is an improvement from initial guidance of down 1% to 3% and the update offered in early December that consolidated passenger unit revenue would be flat to down 2%.
In turn, United noted in an 8-K SEC filing that its non-fuel unit cost growth is expected to be lower than initial expectations due to better than expected benefits-related expenses, timing of certain maintenance and regional expenses and higher than anticipated capacity growth in the quarter, which results from a higher than expected completion factor.
United is slated to report its final fourth quarter results after the close of trading on Tuesday, January 23.
Today's update is a pleasing placeholder in front of that report. In the same vein, investors have found it pleasing that Citigroup upgraded UAL to Buy from Neutral while Stifel called the stock its top trading idea for 2018 and raised its price target to $130 from $100.
Over the last 52 weeks, shares of UAL are down 1.1%.