JOSH FUNK,AP Business Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Three of the nation’s biggest freight railroads are getting ready to release financial reports that could provide insight into the economy’s health.
The companies may also face safety questions after this month’s deadly railroad explosion in Canada.
CSX Corp. will release its first quarter earnings on Tuesday. Union Pacific Corp., the largest U.S. freight railroad, will follow with its report on Thursday. Norfolk Southern Corp. will release its earnings report the following week, on July 23.
The other major U.S. freight railroad, BNSF, is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which is expected to release results in early August.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Over the past two years, railroads have been dealing with weak coal demand because natural gas prices were so cheap many utilities turned away from coal. Coal demand may have started bottoming out, stabilizing in the first quarter. Investors will be watching to see whether that trend continues.
Meanwhile, shipments of crude oil by railroads have been booming in recent years because new oil discoveries are producing more than pipelines can move. Last year, the major U.S. railroads hauled roughly 200,000 carloads of oil.
But the July 6 crash of an oil-laden train into the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic that is presumed to have killed 50 people raises questions about the risks of transporting oil by rail.
Deutsche Bank analyst Justin Yagerman said in a research note that the railroads still have good growth prospects because the housing market and manufacturing are both expected to continue improving as the economy slowly recovers.
Those factors will help railroads no matter what happens with coal and oil shipments.
WHY IT MATTERS: Investors watch major freight railroads closely because they are considered gauges of the nation’s economic health. Railroads carry cars, chemicals, fuel, crops, lumber and containers of imported goods across the nation, so their earnings reflect the health of many industries.
WHAT’S EXPECTED: Analysts surveyed by FactSet expect CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., to report earnings of 47 cents per share on revenue of $3.02 billion.
Analysts predict Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific will report earnings of $2.35 per share on $5.5 billion in revenue.
Norfolk Southern, based in Norfolk, Va., is forecast to report earnings of $1.49 per share on revenue of $2.85 billion.
LAST YEAR’S QUARTER: CSX reported $512 million net income, or 49 cents per share, on revenue of $3.01 billion.
Union Pacific reported net income of $1 billion, or $2.10 per share, on revenue of $5.22 billion.
Norfolk Southern’s net income came to $524 million, or $1.60 per share, on revenue of $2.87 billion.