By most financial measures, CN capped off a strong 2013 with a solid fourth quarter.
Yesterday, the Class I reported that fourth-quarter 2013 revenue climbed 8 percent to $2.7 billion, operating income rose 5 percent to $967 million and net income increased 4 percent to $635 million, or 76 cents per diluted share, compared with fourth-quarter 2012 results (all figures are in Canadian dollars). In addition, volume rose 3 percent to 1.3 million units.
By commodity group, petroleum and chemicals revenue jumped 22 percent to $519 million, metals and minerals revenue climbed 12 percent to $306 million, forest products revenue rose 11 percent to $357 million, intermodal revenue also rose 11 percent to $555 million, automotive revenue increased 4 percent to $133 million, and grain and fertilizers revenue ratcheted up 2 percent to $469 million. Coal revenue declined nine percent to $155 million.
However, fourth-quarter operating expenses increased 10 percent to $1.8 billion and CN's operating ratio rose 1.2 points to 64.8 compared with the year-ago period. Higher labor and fringe benefits expenses resulted from increased pension costs and higher incentive compensation. In addition, there was a negative translation impact of the weaker Canadian dollar on U.S.-dollar-denominated expenses, CN executives said yesterday during the Class I's earnings conference. Plus, purchased services and material costs rose, in part because of severe weather, they added.
Extreme weather both in Canada and the United States hampered CN's operations in late 2013 and into 2014, said President and Chief Executive Officer Claude Mongeau. It's rather unusual to have snow in New Orleans and Winnipeg registered its coldest December since 1879, he said.
"We are dealing with very difficult weather conditions that have impacted our railroad operation … and we're focused on maintaining productivity," he said.
For the full year, CN's revenue rose 7 percent to $10.6 million compared with 2012, primarily because petroleum and chemicals revenue shot up 18 percent, intermodal revenue climbed 9 percent, metals and minerals revenue rose 7 percent, and forest products revenue increased 6 percent. In addition, carloads rose 3 percent to 5.2 million units, adjusted earnings per share climbed 9 percent to $3.06, net income was relatively flat at $2.6 billion, operating expenses increased 7 percent to $6.7 billion and the operating ratio inched up 0.5 points to 63.4.
"We were able to maintain our industry leading operating ratio despite significant headwinds on pension and the depreciation issue," said Mongeau.
Overall, CN's agenda of operational and service excellence helped deliver record revenue and volume in 2013, he said. Key operating and service metrics remained solid, and the railroad continued to drive incremental safety improvements, said Mongeau.
"[We] reduced the accident rate per million train miles by 9 percent in 2013, the latest sign of long-term gains in safety," he said. "In the past 10 years, CN's main-track accidents have declined by more than 50 per cent despite increased freight volumes."
Looking ahead, there are good opportunities in a number of markets this year, including intermodal, oil-and-gas-related commodities, Canadian and U.S. grain, and commodities related to the recovery in the U.S. housing market, said Mongeau. If CN can continue to spur supply chain collaboration, solid execution, efficiency and safety, the Class I should meet 2014 financial goals that were announced last month, including double-digit growth in earnings per share, he said.
"CN is also planning for 2014 capital expenditures of approximately $2.1 billion compared with $2 billion in 2013," said Mongeau.
Browse articles on CN on Progressive Railroading