Continental Airlines Inc. said Thursday its third-quarter profit nearly quadrupled due to strong traffic and the sale of stock in a Panamanian carrier.
Houston-based Continental said it earned $237 million, or $2.17 per share, in the July-September period compared with $61 million, or 80 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding the one-time gain of $92 million from selling stock in Copa Airlines and $1 million in special charges, Continental said it would have earned $146 million, or $1.36 per share.
Excluding those one-time gains and costs, analysts had expected $1.22 per share, according to a survey by Thomson Financial.
Revenue rose 17 percent to $3.52 billion from $3.00 billion. That was slightly below analysts' expectation of $3.54 billion.
Fuel costs rose 25.4 percent, to $858 million, and was the company's largest expense. Labor, typically an airline's biggest cost, rose 15 percent to $743 million. The company is outfitting its planes with winglets, upturned wing tips that improve mileage.
Continental also operates the Continental Express and Continental Connection regional airlines. Jets operated under the main Continental brand flew 82.7 percent full on average, up from 81.7 percent a year earlier, reflecting the strong demand for travel.
Some rivals such as American Airlines have been holding capacity flat or even reducing it, but Continental increased its capacity 8.6 percent in the quarter.
During the third quarter, Continental also took an $8 million charge for lump-sum payments to retiring pilots and a $7 million gain by reducing previously announced charges for grounding MD-80 planes.
In the first nine months of this year, Continental earned $370 million, or $3.50 per share, compared with a loss of $25 million, or 38 cents per share, in the same period of 2005. Revenue has increased 19.2 percent to $9.97 billion.
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