So much for a nice, simple, quiet little quarter from short-line railroad specialist Genesee &Wyoming
Starting at the top, fourth-quarter results looked pretty good to this Fool. North American revenue rose 29%, though a bit less than 7% on a same-rail basis. Carloads were actually down about 2% organically, largely because of disruptions from Hurricane Stan in Mexico and the Louisiana sugar cane crop, but revenue per carload was up more than 7%. What's more, we also have the January traffic numbers, and they showed a healthy 10% increase in same-rail traffic for Genesee.
Profitability was solid as well. The operating profit grew almost 42% in North America, and although the equity income contribution from Australia was smaller by about $1 million, the company still posted reported net income growth of about 51%. On top of that, free cash flow grew by about one-third, according to my calculations -- which are different from the method that management references in its press release.
The bigger news, though, is that Genesee is going to be dramatically changing its Australian business. The company and its 50% partner are selling their Western Australia railroad assets for close to $1 billion, of which the company expects to see about $219 million in net proceeds. Genesee will then use part of that money (about $15 million) to buy out its partner and take sole position of some assets in South Australia, with the rest of the money going toward debt repayment ($88 million) and restocking the kitty for future acquisitions.
Frankly, I'm all in favor of this. I think management has it right when it says the Western ops are worth more to the buyers than to Genesee, and I like the flexibility that the cash influx will give the company in terms of doing more deals. And I'll be honest -- it'll make tracking the company's financial performance a little bit easier as well.
I'm absolutely still a fan of this company, but I can't really enthusiastically recommend it as a new stock purchase. Of course, I'm a little skeptical on railroad valuations in general, from Canadian National
Let The Motley Fool round up more takes on the iron horses:
- Is Norfolk Southern the Rail to Ride?
- Canadian National Chugs Along
- Disruptions Don't Derail Genesee
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).