Shares of North American Class I railroad CSX (CSX 0.56%) hit an all-time high on Wednesday, capping off a spectacular 2013 that saw the stock surge nearly 50%. For railroads including CSX, the theme of the past year has been record performance despite the continued decline of the coal market, historically railroads' most important volume driver. CSX confirmed this positive trend in its fourth-quarter and 2013 full-year earnings released Wednesday after trading.
Analysts have raised estimates for CSX over the past quarter up to $0.43 in earnings per share, yet the company still held up fairly well against high expectations. CSX brought in $426 million in net earnings in the fourth quarter, or $0.42 per share. While this is down slightly from $0.44 per share in the fourth quarter of 2012, last year's quarter included $0.06 per share in one-time proceeds from a real state sale. Full-year earnings were right in line with analyst estimates, at an all-time high of $1.83 per share, up 2% over last year on the back of a record $12 billion in revenue.
As expected, coal dragged results down. A combination of lower volumes and depressed prices for coal led to a 9% fall in coal revenue in 2013, contributing less than a quarter of sales. Intermodal shipments picked up the slack in volume, while increased chemical shipments, largely driven by the North American energy boom, contributed the largest increase in revenue. Investors should expect this familiar pattern to play out across the industry as CSX's Class I peers release their own annual results over the next two weeks.