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United Continental posts fourth quarter loss on merger costs, but revenue grows 15%

|Includes: United Continental Holdings, Inc (UAL)

United Continental Holdings (NYSE: UAL) posted on Wednesday a fourth quarter loss on costs associated with the merger of UAL Corp and Continental Airlines last year, despite reporting better than expected top line growth.

The merger between UAL Corp, the parent of United Airlines, and Continental, which closed in October, resulted in the creation of the world's largest airline. The fourth quarter represents the first in which the company reported combined results.

For the fourth quarter, United Continental reported a net loss of $325 million, or $1.01 per diluted share. This compares with a pro-forma loss of $266 million, or $0.85 per share, in the prior year period.

Excluding $485 million of special items primarily related to the merger, the company actually posted a profit of $160 million, or $0.44 per diluted share.

Total revenue was $8.4 billion, an increase of 15.0% compared to the same period in 2009.

Traffic, or revenue passenger miles, rose 4% over the prior year period on a pro forma basis. Capacity, as measured by available seat miles, increased 3.8% year-over-year. This resulted in a fourth quarter load factor, or the percentage of available seats filled, of 82%, compared to 81.9% a year earlier. Passenger revenue per available seat mile climbed 12%.

Together with its affiliates, United Continental operates a total of approximately 5,675 flights a day to 372 airports on six continents. The company rallied more than 3% on Wednesday morning to trade at $24.98 as of 10:00am EST.