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United Parent UAL Posts a Quarterly Loss

United Airlines parent UAL reported a fourth-quarter loss Tuesday as severe storms grounded planes at its Chicago and Denver hubs.

UAL said it lost $61 million, or 55 cents a share, in the fourth quarter. That was much wider than the loss of 35 cents a share analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected. UAL lost $2.58 a share in the fourth quarter of 2005.

But excluding items like reorganization costs and taxes, the airline made an operating profit of $23 million.

Revenues rose 5% from the same quarter a year ago to $4.6 billion, slightly below expectations of $4.7 billion.

United Airlines, the nation's No. 2 airline by traffic, was forced to cancel about 3,900 flights when back-to-back blizzards struck in Denver, one of its hubs, and a separate storm hit Chicago, snarling traffic at its largest hub in early December.

The inclement weather shaved about $40 million in revenue from its latest quarter and swung UAL from an expected profit to a loss.

Airlines have been showing signs of a fragile recovery, but many have been downplaying expectations for the fourth quarter, which is typically a weaker period of the year.

For the year, the industry is expected to be back in the black. According to the Air Transport Association, a trade group whose members carry more than 90% of U.S. passenger and cargo traffic, the airline industry could post 2006 earnings of $2 billion to $3 billion, possibly topping 2000 profit of $2.5 billion.