1 Surprising Company Roaring Ahead

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Transportation and logistics provider J.B. Hunt Transport Services (Nasdaq: JBHT  ) posted a 26% jump in its second-quarter bottom line, with improvements in each of its four segments contributing to the increase in operating earnings.

The numbers, which were in line with Street expectations, suggest good times for the transportation industry and perhaps better ones ahead.

The top line surged 22% from the year-ago quarter, to $1.15 billion. The largest segment of this Arkansas-based company is intermodal (JBI), which involves multiple-modal freight movement. The JBI segment clocked a 29% rise in revenue to $676 million. Load (volume) saw growth of 18% in spite of challenges like flooding in parts of the country. Revenue rose 16% in the supply chain solutions segment (DCS) on higher truck count and revenues per truck. Intermodal and DCS make up almost 82% of J.B.'s revenues. JBI and DCS make up almost 82% of J.B.'s revenues.

The company's operating margin remained healthy at 9.9%, with operating income rising 24%, to $113.4 million, from the year-ago period. More than three-fourths of this rise comes from the JBI segment. Meanwhile, the truck segment (JBT) saw operating income decline by 3%, mainly because of higher costs.

J.B. Hunt's long-term debt-to-capital ratio increased significantly, from 35.1% in the second quarter last year to 51.4%. However, the interest coverage ratio stands at 16.9, meaning it has 17 times operating income to cover its interest payments. That's a fine level to be working with.

Fuel benefit
The interesting thing about companies like J.B. is the way they can pass on higher fuel prices to customers in the form of surcharges. Con-Way's (NYSE: CNW  ) revenue last quarter was boosted by fuel surcharges. Such surcharges also played a role in boosting Old Dominion Freight Line's (Nasdaq: ODFL  ) revenue in its first quarter.

So, for J.B., while fuel costs could pinch in the truck division, other segments are gaining from fuel surcharges. Fuel surcharges accounted for $225 million in revenues this quarter.

When fuel prices cool down, it could lower costs for the trucking segment, thus improving margins. Lower fuel prices may also boost freight volumes. Raising freight rates is another way to tackle fuel prices, just like Con-Way did recently. Fuel surcharges on one hand, and freight hikes on the other, are handy strategies to offset rising fuel prices for truckers, something that J.B. has benefitted from.

Positive signs
The American Trucking Association predicts bright times ahead for the trucking industry, which acts as a barometer for broader economic growth. The freight tonnage is also expected to grow 24% in the next 10 years. All this is good news in the long run for J.B.

Moreover, the intermodal segment is coming up in a big way. With even rail players like Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC  ) building on intermodal now, it only signals the booming demand and potential for further growth in the segment.

The Foolish bottom line
Trucking plus alternative transportation offered by J.B. give it an edge over pure trucking players. With in-line numbers and all-round segmental growth, combined with an optimistic industry outlook, Fools may want to keep an eye on the stock.

Neha Chamaria does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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