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Rail News: BNSF Railway

Despite lower revenue and earnings, BNSF 'weathers a difficult economic environment' by controlling costs


Yesterday, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. reported first-quarter profits of $293 million, down 35.6 percent compared with first-quarter 2008 income as the sluggish economy took a large bite out of traffic volumes and the Class I incurred several one-time charges.

The railroad earned 86 cents per diluted share vs. $1.30 per diluted share in the year-earlier period. Excluding a 19-cent-per-share charge related to an unfavorable coal rate decision and an 8-cent-per-share loss to unwind interest rate hedges on debt BNSF no longer expects to be issued, the Class I earned $1.13 per diluted share.

Freight revenue fell 20 percent to $3.31 billion. A 14 percent decrease in volumes, which totaled 2.1 million units, accounted for nearly half of the $831 million difference in revenue vs. last year, while a decrease in fuel surcharges accounted for about $325 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected earnings of 96 cents per share on revenue of $3.68 billion, excluding one-time charges.

With the exception of coal, BNSF’s commodity revenues declined across the board. Not surprisingly, automotive revenue took the biggest hit on a percentage basis, falling 42.6 percent to $74 million. Excluding the charge related to the unfavorable coal rate decision, coal revenue increased half of one percentage point.

Quarterly operating expenses decreased 18.6 percent to $2.76 billion compared with first-quarter 2008. The railroad attributed the drop to cost controls, lower unit volumes and lower fuel expenses, which dropped from $1 billion a year ago to $614 million.

However, BNSF’s operating ratio climbed slightly from 78.9 in first-quarter 2008 to 79.8.

“During the first quarter, BNSF’s focus on cost control and a variable cost structure enabled us to weather a difficult economic environment,” said Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Rose in a prepared statement. “BNSF continues to manage through the recession and is well positioned to take advantage of the eventual economic recovery.”

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More News from 4/24/2009