You can't go to a sporting event without hearing at least one rendition of Ozzy's "Crazy Train," and it seems like a railroad company can't report earnings without selling off. Today's victim is NorfolkSouthern
Actually, Norfolk's report didn't seem all that bad to me -- at least not "down 10% bad." Revenue was up 11%, and though that's on the lower end of what other rails have done, it's not that bad. In fact, so far only the Western Class 1 operators (Burlington Northern
Norfolk Southern also did well on profitability -- the operating ratio not only fell by 80 basis points, but it was the lowest among American Class 1 operators this quarter (and lower is better with this metric). Turning to the bottom line, adjusted income rose 23% and the company's "miss" this quarter came from the absence of synfuel-related tax credits it had qualified for in the past -- not exactly reflective of serious operating flaws, in my book.
What I found interesting, though, was that Norfolk Southern sounded a little less positive than some of its competitors when it came to the conference call. Now this is a very subjective sort of thing, so treat it as such. But whereas some companies were chest-thumping about strong volume and little or no price risk, Norfolk was a bit more circumspect. Whether that's because of management conservatism or different conditions in Norfolk's own business, I cannot say.
These stocks keep selling off, and that's forcing me to pay a little more attention to them. I haven't really changed my opinion that rails make questionable long-term investments (mostly because of the very high maintenance cap-ex needs and the past difficulties in earning back their cost of capital), but each red day in the rail sector takes some risk out of the stocks. Buying today may be (pardon the expression) like stepping in front of a freight train, but if this selling pressure continues, it may just produce some values after all.
Take another Foolish ride on the rails:
- Canadian National Suffers a Loon Bite
- Can Genesee & Wyoming Juice Its Caboose?
- Norfolk Southern Brings It Home
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).