Shares in United Airlines parent UAL Corp. soared to a post-bankruptcy high Wednesday after industry analysts issued bullish reports for this year's profit outlook.
The advance came amid a strong showing by airline stocks overall, as the Amex Airline Index surged on lower crude oil prices. Jet fuel is among an airline's top costs.
UAL led the rally, boosted by a Goldman Sachs report raising its 2007 earnings and price targets for the company, as well as an upgrade by Calyon Securities.
UAL Corp.'s stock closed at $46.36, up $2.36, or 5.36 percent, on the Nasdaq stock market after peaking at $47.18. That is the highest level since the stock began trading at $40 last February following a three-year bankruptcy restructuring.
Goldman Sachs analyst Robert Barry said UAL is his "best buy" among airlines because its expected margin expansion is better than that of its peers. He said the stock looks attractively valued compared with its hub-and-spoke competitors, and the company's future cash flow prospects look very strong.
"Key risks are management execution and fourth-quarter yields," he wrote in a report to investors.
Calyon analyst Ray Neidl wrote in a research report that United is in position to take advantage of what is expected to be a good year for pricing and revenue because it has one of the best networks in the industry, with strong domestic and international routes.
Neidl boosted his full-year 2007 earnings projection to $4.80 per share from $3.58, compared with Wall Street's overall view of $4.32, according to a Thomson Financial analyst poll.
"Barring extraordinary developments or a major economic downturn in the near term, we believe that early 2007 will be a banner year for the industry and United is well positioned to take advantage of it," Neidl wrote.
United has explored the possibility of a merger with Continental Airlines Inc., though no agreements have been reached and a deal remains far from certain. The outcome may hinge on the success or failure of US Airways Group Inc.'s $8.67 billion (euro6.5 billion) hostile takeover bid for Delta Air Lines Inc., whose top executive has rebuffed the offer.
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