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Norfolk Southern (NSC) Beats on Q4 Earnings, Hikes Dividend

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Norfolk Southern Corporation’s (NSC - Free Report) fourth-quarter 2020 earnings of $2.64 per share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.48. Moreover, the bottom line improved 3.5% on a year-over-year basis on lower costs.

The company’s railway operating revenues in the quarter under review came in at $2,573 million, outpacing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2,556.4 million. However, the top line declined 4.4% year over year due to 1% dip in total volumes and a 3% decline in revenue per unit. Unfavorable business mix as a result of the coronavirus-led economic slowdown and low fuel surcharges also hurt the top line.

Income from railway operations increased 2% year over year to $984 million. Railway operating expenses fell 8% on a year-over-year basis to $1,589 million, courtesy of low fuel costs, compensation and benefits, and purchased-services expenses. Norfolk Southern’s operating ratio (operating expenses as a percentage of revenues) in the fourth quarter improved to 61.8% from 64.2% in the year-ago period owing to reduced operating expenses. With respect to this metric, lower the value, the better.

Segmental Performance

On a year-over-year basis, coal revenues totaled $290 million, down 20% year over year. Coal volumes contracted 25%. Revenue per unit, however, increased 6% in the reported quarter.

Merchandise revenues slid 5% to $1,553 million while volumes also fell 5%. Revenue per unit was flat year over year for the segment.

Intermodal revenues inched up 5% year over year to $730 million. While segmental volumes rose 5%, revenue per unit slipped 1% on a year-over-year basis.

Liquidity

This currently Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company exited the fourth quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $1,115 million compared with $580 million at the end of 2019. The company had long-term debt of $12,102 million at the end of the reported quarter compared with $11,880 million at 2019 end.

You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Dividend Hike

This railroad operator’s board of directors approved a 5% hike in its quarterly dividend on the company's common stock from 94 cents to 99 cents per share. In another shareholder-friendly announcement, the company raised its long-term dividend payout ratio target from 33% of net income to the 35-40% range.

How Other Railroads Fared

Let’s take a look at some of the other recently released earnings reports from companies within the Zacks Transportation – Rail industry.

CSX Corporation's (CSX - Free Report) fourth-quarter 2020 earnings (excluding 5 cents from non-recurring items) of $1.04 per share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1. The bottom line also improved 5.1% year over year due on an encouraging performance of the intermodal segment. Total revenues of $2,825 million outperformed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2,747.5 million.

Union Pacific Corporation’s (UNP - Free Report) fourth-quarter 2020 earnings (excluding 31 cents from non-recurring items) of $2.36 per share beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.25. Moreover, the bottom line improved 16.8% on a year-over-year basis. Operating revenues of $5,141 million also marginally beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate.

Kansas City Southern’s (KSU - Free Report) fourth-quarter 2020 earnings (excluding 9 cents from non-recurring items) of $1.89 per share missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.91. However, the bottom line inched up 3.9% year over year, driven by lower costs. Meanwhile, quarterly revenues of $693.4 million lagged the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $700.6 million.

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