A few days after throwing in the towel on its attempted merger with Kansas City Southern, and facing a board and management reorganization forced by activist investor and “beneficial owner” TCI Fund Management Ltd., CN on Sept. 17 announced its “Full Speed Ahead – Redefining Railroading” initiative, which it describes as an “ambitious value creation plan” consisting of, for full-year 2022, $5 billion in stock buybacks (a previously authorized C$1.1 billion of it to be completed by the end of January 2022), a decrease in capital investment to approximately 17% of revenues, C$700 million of additional, incremental operating income, a 57% operating ratio, and elimination of more than 1,000 jobs, 400 of them from operating crafts.
Cowen and Company
Despite continued market challenges, Wabtec Corp. “strengthened” its financial position in second-quarter 2021, growing its 12-month backlog—“the highest since second-quarter 2019”—and posting a “year-to-date book-to-bill above 1.0,” the company reported.
“Our ability to deliver sustainable, profitable growth has never been stronger,” Canadian Pacific (CP) President and CEO Keith Creel said during the railroad’s second-quarter 2021 earnings announcement.
CN followed potential merger partner Kansas City Southern (KCS) in reporting financial results for second-quarter 2021, noting C$3.598 billion in revenues—an increase of 12% over the prior-year period—and a 13% increase in revenue ton-miles (RTMs).
We hosted our second call with a noted transportation attorney to discuss the Executive Order signed by President Biden on July 9. It appears to be much more measured than early reporting initially indicated. The tone surrounding the railroads implied recognized independence of the Surface Transportation Board, and is likely in line with the thinking of the Marty Oberman-led organization. Longer term, we will monitor bottleneck implications.
Cowen and Company transportation analysts Jason Seidl (Managing Director and Wall Street Contributing Editor), Matt Elkott and Elliott Alper recently conducted their second-quarter 2021 rail equipment and shipper surveys. Following are the results.
Following the closing of the public comment period for the CN voting trust, which ended June 28, we are re-calibrating our expectations and now believe there to be a ~60% chance the Surface Transportation Board approves it. Our viewpoints swayed slightly in favor of CN following a closer look at the public comments over the past 20 days.
On May 19, we hosted a call with a noted transportation attorney to discuss the latest news surrounding the proposed merger involving KSU/CP/CNI. The STB decision on May 17 indicates more caution surrounding voting trusts; CNI must show that the trust keeps a level playing field. The key for CNI will be that public benefits outweigh harms.
Takeaways from Cowen and Company’s recent Rail Equipment Webinar show that locomotive upgrades remain solid, as traffic growth continues. Elevated inquiries for newly built railcars should begin to translate into orders gradually, despite the steel premium. Lessors are well-positioned as freight demand rises, railcar supply decreases and new builds fall short of replacement levels this year.
Railcar demand is on the rise, but so is the price of steel, which Cowen and Company estimates has put a 15%-25% premium on newly built equipment.