CSX to lead off Class I railroad quarterly and annual earnings reports on Jan. 16

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CSX Transportation will kick off Class I railroad fourth-quarter earnings reports when it releases its quarterly and full-year results on Jan. 16.

It’s fitting that CSX leads off, as it likely will draw the most intense interest as the railroad begins the post-Hunter Harrison era under new CEO Jim Foote.

Change has been the only constant at CSX over the past year. And the amount of change since the third quarter earnings call, on Oct. 17, is extraordinary.

On Oct. 25, CSX announced the departures of its top operating, marketing, and legal officers — an unprecedented one-day management shakeup. Foote, who worked with CEO E. Hunter Harrison at Canadian National, was brought aboard as a chief operating officer who also would lead sales and marketing.

On Dec. 14, the Surface Transportation Board, reacting to shipper complaints, asked CSX to explain when it would begin to provide reliable last-mile service. And the same day CSX announced that Harrison would take medical leave. Foote was named acting chief executive. Harrison, 73, died just two days later from unexpected complications from an illness that CSX did not disclose.

On Dec. 22, Foote was named CEO. And on Jan. 8, Foote named former CN colleague Ed Harris as executive vice president of operations. Both say they will proceed with implementation of Harrison’s Precision Scheduled Railroading operating model.

“For every worry on completing the PSR transformation, there is a equivalent if not superior reassurance that CSX will achieve post-Hunter integration of operations and marketing (etc.) that much faster,” says analyst Anthony Hatch of ABH Consulting.

All of the Class I’s are expected report better quarterly and full-year results, as traffic rebounded in 2017, rates generally rose, and railroads continued to cut costs and improve productivity.

Each of the publicly traded railroads also continued share buyback programs, which helps to boost earnings per share by reducing the number of outstanding shares.
Canadian Pacific reports its earnings on Jan. 18, followed by Kansas City Southern on Jan. 19.

The following week, the schedule is CN on Jan. 23, Norfolk Southern on Jan. 24, and Union Pacific on Jan. 25.

CN is likely to update investors on its progress in hiring additional crews, adding locomotives, and the track capacity necessary to handle unexpectedly robust traffic growth. CN grew more than twice as fast as the rest of the industry in 2017, but was caught off guard by a surge in traffic in its Western region.
BNSF Railway, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, is expected to report results alongside its parent company on or around Feb. 23.
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