Norfolk Southern 4Q profit rises 19 percent

AP News
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Posted: Jan 24, 2012 5:39 PM
Norfolk Southern 4Q profit rises 19 percent

Higher rates and heavier traffic helped freight railroad operator Norfolk Southern Corp. boost fourth-quarter profit by 19 percent.

Revenue was less than analysts expected, and operating costs rose sharply on higher fuel prices. Shares fell in after-hours trading.

The company said Tuesday that net income rose to $480 million, or $1.42 per share, compared with $402 million, or $1.09 per share, a year ago.

Analysts expected $1.40 per share, according to a survey by research firm FactSet.

Revenue rose 17.2 percent, to $2.80 billion, below analysts' forecast of $2.83 billion.

The company's Norfolk Southern Railway carried more coal, autos and general merchandise than it did a year ago. Volume rose 5.7 percent.

But the bigger boost to earnings came from carload rates that jumped 10.6 percent. Coal rates soared 21.1 percent, to $2,097 per carload. Coal volume grew just 2.7 percent.

Volume of shipments fell for some important categories. Carloads of agriculture and consumer goods, chemicals, and paper and forest goods all declined.

With heavier volume and higher fuel costs, however, Norfolk Southern's operating expenses jumped 14 percent from a year ago.

Norfolk Southern shares fell 47 cents to close at $75.48 before the report. In after-hours trading, they fell another $2.03, or 2.7 percent, to $73.45.

Railroads are considered bellwethers of the economy because of the variety of consumer goods they carry. In the past week, three major U.S. railroads have reported better profit than a year ago, although mixed results in the amount of goods carried.

Last week, Union Pacific Corp. reported that fourth-quarter net income jumped 24 percent as it raised prices and hauled more freight. On Monday, CSX Corp. said profit grew 6 percent but volume fell.

Norfolk Southern, which operates over 20,000 miles of track in 22 states in the eastern U.S., carried 20.8 percent more cars and automotive components, a reflection of the increase in North American vehicle production.

Carloads of metals and construction materials also gained 5.7 percent, as mild winter weather extended the building season in parts of the country.