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This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series.
It's earnings season, and my favorite little trucker Heartland Express (Nasdaq: HTLD ) released its first-quarter report last week. For the quarter, the company saw operating revenue increase a bit more than 10% to $127.7 million compared with the same quarter last year. Net income of $14.9 million translated into earnings per share of $0.16, up 23% from last year's quarter and net margin of 11.7%, up from 10.3% a year ago.
The good news for Heartland is that demand is up. The economy seems to be moving in the right direction albeit slowly, which ultimately means more goods being transported. However, there are a few areas that dragged on results somewhat: harsh winter weather, driver availability, and rising fuel prices. And while Mother Nature more or less has her say where the weather is concerned, management continues to keep a close eye on drivers and fuel.
Driver 8 take a break
Given that Heartland focuses on short-to-medium hauls, it deals less with the intermodal services that competitors Hub Group (Nasdaq: HUBG ) and J.B. Hunt Transport Services (Nasdaq: JBHT ) compete for. While this gives it a specific market on which to focus, it also makes it more dependent on its drivers as there are no rail services involved. And given the ongoing push to regulate truckers' hours on the road, it is reasonable to believe that we may continue to see tight driver supply.
Gas and go
Fuel prices may have the greatest impact on short-term profitability as they fluctuate with demand and the price of oil. Thanks to an increase in average fuel prices, Heartland saw a 32.5% increase in fuel expense for the quarter. Fuel surcharge pricing, idling hours, and purchasing decisions are being monitored closely in order to keep rises in fuel costs to a minimum. However, another point to note is that the company's actual fleet is becoming more fuel efficient. With an average age of 1.85 years, Heartland continues to take advantage of what new technology has to offer such as idle management controls, which help prevent fuel waste. And electronic onboard recorders will help boost the company's industry-leading safety scores.
Eastbound and down, loaded up, and truckin'
Heartland is a small trucker that pretty much keeps to itself, and that's just fine by me. Management doesn't even hold conference calls for their earnings reports, so you have to glean as much as you can from the 8-K and go on from there. But with a rich culture and history and the Gerdin family behind it all, I believe Heartland looks like a real long-term winner.