Monday, April 20, 2009

CN first-quarter net income rises, beats Street

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Canadian National late Monday reported its first-quarter results, with net income of C$424 million, or 90 Canadian cents per diluted share, compared with C$311 million, or 64 Canadian cents per diluted share, reported in the first quarter of 2008.

Excluding one-time items, CN recorded earnings of C$302 million, or 64 Canadian cents per share, but even those results beat Wall Street analyst expectations of 60 Canadian cents per share.

CN revenue fell 4% for the quarter compared with the 2008 quarter, while freightcar loadings fell 16%. Operating expenses fell 2%, assisted in part by falling fuel prices. Operating income declined 8%, and the railroad’s operating ratio rose 1.2 points to 74.1%.

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The railroad noted special circumstances included a gain of C$157 million, or C$135 million after-tax (C$0.29 per diluted share), from the sale of a railway route to Toronto’s GO Transit, and the C$46 million expense related to CN's acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Co. in the U.S. in late January, among other items.

The strengthening of the U.S. dollar affected the conversion of the CN's U.S. dollar-denominated revenue and expenses, increasing first-quarter 2009 net income by approximately C$30 million, or C$0.06 per diluted share.

In a statement, E. Hunter Harrison, president and chief executive officer, said, "Economic conditions during the first quarter of 2009 were challenging. Our traffic declined sharply as production cuts andreduced imports and exports coursed through the North American and global economies. But we responded quickly to the downturn, using the discipline of our Precision Railroading model to reduce expenses while maintaining quality service. Among other measures, we reduced train starts and cut discretionary expenditures.

"Amid these challenges, the weakening of the Canadian dollar vis a vis the U.S. dollar was a shock absorber, and we remained focused on generating increased shareholder value through the sale of our Weston subdivision in Toronto,” Harrison said.

Harrison also noted, “I am particularly proud that we completed the acquisition of the EJ&E during the quarter. The route-around-Chicago represented by the EJ&E, and the upgrades we plan for the line in the next three years, will pay dividends to CN in the years ahead through faster transit times, improved productivity, and better service to customers."