Analyst Downgrade Shows United Is Still Paying Price for Botched Merger

Skift Take

We’re certain United CEO Jeff Smisek has incriminating photos of every single United board member. That’s the only explanation for his continued service at the troubled carrier.

— Jason Clampet

An airline analyst downgraded United Continental on Thursday, saying it has not capitalized on lessons learned from other mergers in the industry and that it still lags its industry rivals.

Imperial Capital analyst Bob McAdoo said that the company’s plans indicate that it could take four years to close the gap on margins and returns being seen at Delta and American.

Imperial Capital cut the United parent to “In-Line” or neutral from “Outperform,” and lowered its target price for the shares within one year to $47 from $55.

McAdoo said United’s pre-tax earnings lagged both Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. by about $1 billion each, and he expects United to continue to trail those carriers.

United “has yet to adopt key steps taken in recent successful airline mergers and we are unsure why McAdoo wrote.

United declined to comment on Imperial’s downgrade.

The second-biggest airline company by traffic, behind American, it is struggling to make the 2010 merger of United and Continental profitable. While American and Delta posted first-quarter profits, Chicago’s United reported a loss of $609 million.

Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc. fell 43 cents, or 1 percent, to $41.38 in midafternoon trading Thursday. Through Wednesday, they had gained 10.5 percent in 2014. In the same time, Delta’s shares gained 43.2 percent and American’s rose 73.9 percent.

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