The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI) is down 0.4% in midafternoon trading. Initial unemployment claims fell 2,000 last week to 326,000; the less volatile four-week moving average also dropped by 13,500 claims to 335,000. In other news, the Labor Department announced the Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% in December and is up 1.5% year over year; hinting that inflation pressures remain in check. With that economic data in mind, here are some companies making headlines as we head deeper into earnings season.
Shares of CSX (NYSE: CSX) have tumbled more than 7% today after the company posted fourth-quarter results after the bell on Wednesday. CSX reported that revenue increased 5% to $3 billion while profits faltered 5% to $426 million, or $0.42 per share. Those results were just shy of analysts' expectations of $0.43 per share on revenue of $3.01 billion. The biggest culprit was continued weakness in coal transportation, which accounts for roughly a quarter of CSX's revenue. Coal volume and revenue fell 5% and 9%, respectively, in the fourth quarter. That weighed heavily on investors despite overall freight carload volume rising 6% due to increased demand from its intermodal and chemicals segments.
In addition to coal's weakness, investors were also disappointed that CSX's revenue per carload slipped 1%, which implies the company is struggling with its pricing power. Investors will also need to keep an eye on CSX's operating ratio, which is a measurement of management's ability to rein in costs: the smaller the figure the better. Despite the company's goal to bring its operating ratio into the high 60s by 2015, its ratio actually increased from 70.6 in 2012 to 71.1 in 2013.
Meanwhile, in the automotive industry, Ford (NYSE: F) is flat after yesterday announcing positive results from its European operations. Ford's overall market share remained essentially flat, but the company's new products are hitting their stride with the consumer, sending retail sales up 14% last year. That increase moved Ford's retail market share up a full percentage point to 8.2%.
Ford sold 1.1 million vehicles in Europe's 19 traditional markets and that was enough to secure its No. 2 best-selling brand spot there for the sixth consecutive year. One piece of information that investors should key in on was that 43% of the company's vehicles sold last year were all-new or significantly refreshed models. That's hugely important and shows that Ford owns one of the industry's freshest and most popular vehicle lineups. As the situation in Europe improves, Ford is poised to capture additional market share and revenue with its new vehicles. Ford plans to roll out seven new models in 2014 and the company is sticking to its goal of breaking even in the region in 2015.
As earnings season continues to heat up, Dow component General Electric (NYSE: GE) will reporting earnings on Friday. Despite the stock price rising to its best levels since early 2008, analysts have slashed a penny per share from fourth-quarter earnings estimates for General Electric. A major reason for the caution is because the company is in the middle of a transition between de-emphasizing the importance of its finance arm, GE Capital, and refocusing on its industrial businesses. Investors would be wise to key in on the conference call for more color and guidance on GE's transition and restructuring process for 2014.
GE has its hand in energy as well, but is it really one of the best plays during the U.S. energy boom?
Record oil and natural gas production is revolutionizing the United States' energy position. Finding the right plays while historic amounts of capital expenditures are flooding the industry will pad your investment nest egg. For this reason, the Motley Fool is offering a comprehensive look at three energy companies set to soar during this transformation in the energy industry. To find out which three companies are spreading their wings, check out the special free report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free.