United Air Abandons 2020 Profit Goal on Coronavirus Outbreak
A United Airline aircraft operated by United Continental Holdings Inc. sits on the tarmac at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg)

United Air Abandons 2020 Profit Goal on Coronavirus Outbreak

(Bloomberg) -- United Airlines Holdings Inc. withdrew its 2020 profit forecast, citing the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

The uncertainty surrounding the virus means United can’t guarantee its earlier goal of earning $11 to $13 a share this year, according to a regulatory filing Monday. The earnings target is still within reach if the outbreak runs its course by mid-May and travel patterns return to normal in the five months after that, United said.

The airline’s caution underscores the worsening financial drag as the spread of the new coronavirus stymies global travel. Airlines around the world have halted flights to China, while in other industries companies from Apple Inc. to Puma SE have warned that the virus threatens their results. Mastercard is the latest to join the chorus, lowering its forecast for revenue growth.

United rose less than 1% to $75.70 before the start of regular trading Tuesday in New York. The stock had dropped 3.3% Monday amid a global rout on coronavirus fears.

The Chicago-based airline said it still expects to meet its first-quarter guidance of 75 cents to $1.25 per share, aided by a decline in fuel prices, cost savings and a revised co-branded credit card agreement with JP Morgan Chase & Co.

United had the most service to China among U.S. airlines, with 12 daily flights. It has removed that flying from its schedule until April 24. Flights to destinations in all of Asia were expected to account for 15% of United’s capacity this year.

Despite the virus’s financial impact, United said it’s on track to earn $15 to $18 a share in 2022, with free cash flow of $2 billion that year and $3 billion in 2023.

The company also plans to cap its debt level at no more than 3.5 times adjusted debt to adjusted earnings. United had net debt of $17.7 billion at the end of 2019.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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