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UAL Says Earnings Will Take Off

UAL Corp., owner of United Airlines, said Monday it expects first quarter and fiscal 1999 earnings to "significantly" exceed Wall Street projections, bolstered by improved domestic demand.

After the report, BT Alex. Brown reiterated ratings on nine airlines, including a "market perform" for UAL. The bank cited the industry's ability this weekend to raise fares for business- and leisure-class customers.

Business fares were hiked by about 1 percent and leisure fares increased about 3 percent. It was the second price increase so far this year.

The news lifted airline stocks Monday. UAL, a component of the Dow Jones Transportation Index, gained 4 5/16 to 71 3/8.

The world's largest air carrier said it will earn about $1.35 a share in the first quarter and between $10 and $12 for 1999. Analysts surveyed by First Call Corp. had been projecting gains of $1.12 for the first-quarter and $9.12 for the year.

UAL (UAL) said it's expecting a "strong" first quarter based on an increase in domestic ticket purchases and higher prices, which reverses a trend that hampered airlines much of last year.

"The company believes these trends could in part result from the dissipation of general economic uncertainty and improvements in the industry pricing environment," UAL said. The air carrier also said first-quarter results benefited from pilot unrest at rival American Airlines (AMR), a unit of AMR Corp.

For the rest of the year, UAL said it expects a modest improvement in business on the Pacific Coast to offset a decline in revenue in the Atlantic Coast market, where competition is tougher and there's little room for expansion.