Posts Tagged ‘CSX finances’

Reading Between the Lines of How CSX Management Projects Itself to the World

March 7, 2018

CSX executives revealed last week at long last their vision for their company. They were supposed to have done it last fall, but three top-ranking vice presidents left during a management shakeup. Then CEO E. Hunter Harrison died.

But things have now stabilized. CEO James M. Foote and his management team put forth the most optimistic and rosy scenarios that they dared to spin.

Hovering over those presentations in New York City, though was Harrison.

A year ago Harrison and the hedge fund Mantle Ridge were closing in on their takeover of CSX, a feat they pulled off with a relatively small amount of money and in a short amount of time.

Harrison had great plans for the hidebound CSX. He brought the precision scheduled railroading model that he had implemented on the Illinois Central and then at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Foote and his team went to great lengths to show that Harrison’s vision is their vision, too. Harrison received the reverence normally reserved for a company founder or elder statesman of much longer tenure.

Harrison had a lot of work to do. Independent railroad industry analyst Tony Hatch and Trains magazine columnist Fred Frailey have described CSX as long hindered by adherence to the practices of its  predecessor railroads, meaning it was  averse to change and rather bureaucratic.

Frailey said ormer CEO John Snow as uninspiring and his successor, Michael Ward, sought to move CSX forward but was bewildered as to how to get it out of its rut.

No wonder the CSX board of directors gave Harrison a chance even if, to quote his successor Foote, Harrison engaged in “carpet bombing” the railroad with fast-paced changes that led to widespread service failures that drew the ire of shippers and the attention of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

But all of that is behind CSX now, or so management wanted those attending or watching the presentations in New York to believe.

Some have bought it. Writing in Progressive Railroading, Hatch quoted an  investor as saying this was the best CSX meeting he had seen in a decade of watching the railroad.

The current management team laid out  goal of a 60 percent operating ratio by 2020, described a new intermodal business strategy, and pointed to the huge buckets of money it will fill from sales of unneeded real estate and rail lines.

Having a plan and making it work are not always, though, the same thing. Truth is every railroad company talks about growing traffic and all of them are facing challenges finding it.

Hatch said that if CSX is to increase its carload and intermodal business it will have to provide consistent and improving service.

Frailey didn’t comment directly on the New York conference, instead referring readers to articles written by the magazine’s writer covering the story, Bill Stephens.

Those articles, Frailey correctly observed, did well in showing how CSX seeks to project itself to the world.

Yet Frailey said some industry observers with whom he regularly corresponds have been debating the endgame that CSX management is seeking and it isn’t necessarily to grow traffic and become North America’s best railroad.

Those observers think CSX plans to eventually liquidate the company.

Frailey said the case for liquidation goes as follows: “The railroad borrows money to buy back an astounding $5 billion of stock, making every dollar of profit worth more to shareholders who stick around because the same amount of earnings is spread among many fewer shares . . . Freight rates are being jacked up to cover fully allocated costs, a direction I’m told only Union Pacific has gone up to now—milk the cow until it collapses, the saying goes. Its carload business has been steadily eroding since the turn of the century.”

The veteran journalist who has written about railroads since the 1960s said  he understands that CSX has reduced its marketing staff to a hard core operation.

That hardly sounds like a railroad that will be able to aggressively go to find new business. Perhaps CSX expects that by offering a superior product that shippers will come to it begging to do business.

The word “liquidate” that some of Frailey’s contacts used to describe CSX’s endgame is unfortunate because it conjures up selling assets and going away.

Perhaps a better description might have been to break up the railroad much as Illinois Central Gulf slimmed down in the 1970s and 1980s until it emerged as largely a Chicago-New Orleans core with a few arteries connecting to it.

Yes, some rail lines were abandoned, but most wound up in the hands of short line and regional railroads.

It was that railroad on which Harrison first implemented his precision scheduled railroading model.

Frailey isn’t sure what to make of what CSX is doing, but doesn’t believe Foote isn’t prepared to do the job thrust upon him following Harrison’s death.

Foote was in the right place at the right time and for now CSX and its shareholders will let him sit at the throttle and take the EHH train a little further down the line. But it is Harrison’s train orders that Foote is following and not those Foote wrote himself.

Shareholders can be a fickle lot. Just this week Canadian National, a railroad described in most circles as highly successful, pushed out CEO Luc Jobin after the company hit a rough patch.

What I see happening at CSX is that management is trying to walk a fine line between pleasing investors and shippers and keeping at bay a few interested bystanders who have the ability to make life easy or miserable for a company.

Cost cutting and asset sales will only take a company so far in that endeavor. Of course growing traffic makes everyone happy, but is CSX prepared to spend the time and money needed to make that happen. It is so much easier to sell property and lightly used rail routes.

In theory, a company exists to serve its customers because without them you don’t have a company. But theory also says that a company exists to make money for its shareholders.

The two objectives are not necessarily in opposition. Arguably, you can’t make money for shareholders unless you provide a product or service that someone is willing to buy.

But you can’t improve your product or seek to sell more of it without spending money on that, too.

Management has always existed to reconcile those sometimes opposing forces.

The history of the railroad industry is filled with tales of financiers milking companies and leaving them behind. There is reason to believe that CSX is tilting toward enabling the financiers to make a financial killing before moving on to something else.

To quote a line from the John Mellencamp song Peaceful World, “These are just words and words are OK. It’s what you do and not what you say, if you’re not part of the future then get out of the way.”

We will know in time what the future of CSX is but take with some healthy skepticism how CSX projects that to the world.


CSX Aims for 60% Operating Ratio by 2020

March 2, 2018

CSX executives told an investor’s conference in New York City this week that the carrier will continue paring its locomotive and rail car fleets, and reducing its employment ranks as it works toward reaching an operating ratio of 60 percent by 2020.

Along the way the railroad expects revenue to grow at a compound annual rate of 4 percent.

The carrier also expects to trim capital expenses over the next three years.

If all goes to plan, the higher revenue, lower costs, and reduced capital expenses will allow CSX to generate $8.5 billion in free cash flow, a $5-billion increase over the previous three-year period, and that cash will be put into the pockets of stockholders through a $5 billion stock buyback program and higher dividends.

“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter for CSX, and we’re confident we have the right plan and the right team in place to achieve our goal of becoming the best railroad in North America,” said CEO James M. Foote. “The foundation of scheduled railroading has been set, and we expect to identify real growth opportunities that will benefit shareholders as our changes take hold.”

CSX said that by offering faster, more dependable service it expects to better compete with trucks, charge higher rates, and grow intermodal and merchandise traffic over the next three years.

Nonetheless, Foot acknowledged that he has had to apologize to shippers for service failures last year that occurred as CSX made rapid changes in its transition to the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

But Foote said the carrier has rebounded and that trains are moving 30 percent faster and freight cars are spending 22 percent less time in yards.

Capital spending will be trimmed to an average of $1.6 billion a year where it had been $2.5 billion three years ago.

“We are not reducing the emphasis on infrastructure and maintenance,” Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said.

He said the railroad will install more miles of rail, replace more ties, and add more ballast this year than in 2017. Most of the decline in capital spending comes from withdrawing from buying locomotives and rolling stock and the completion of installation of positive train control.

Although CSX doesn’t expect this year to make such big changes as converting hump yards to flat switching facilities, the company did not rule out closing additional humps.

CSX expects that operating fewer and longer trains daily will enable it to do more with less.

At the start of 2017, CSX had 3,781 active locomotives. That fell to 3,000 by late last year and is slated to tumble another 20 percent to 2,400 units by 2020.

The railroad will cut its freight car fleet to between 104,000 and 109,000 cars. Officials say that speeding up the network and reducing car cycle times will enable this.

With fewer trains, fewer locomotives, fewer cars, fewer shops and fewer yards, CSX will also get along with fewer workers.

The payroll will be slashed to 21,000 employes by 2020, a 23 percent reduction from the 27,000 workers CSX had in late 2017. The latter number is also significantly less than what the railroad had at the start of the year.

Over the next three years, CSX expects to reap $300 million from selling surplus real estate and $500 million from the sale of rail lines.

CSX Vice President of Strategic Planning Amy Rice described the line sales as a by-product of broader network evaluation but did not provide any information as to how many miles it plans to sell.

She only would say that all lines under review will not necessarily be put up for sale.

CSX plans to add 600,000 units of lift capacity at six intermodal terminals during the next two years as it focuses on point-to-point service.

Lower-density intermodal traffic will be consigned to merchandise trains as CSX implements a balanced train plan with daily service.

CSX does not see a change in the long-term decline of coal traffic, but will work to move its coal traffic faster, more reliably, and more efficiently.

CSX Delays Investors Conference

October 26, 2017

In the wake of high-level management changes, CSX is delaying an investors conference to an unspecified later date.

The company had been set to announce during the Oct. 30 event its vision for the future and some details about its operating plans.

In a statement, CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison said, “I am more confident than ever in CSX’s ability to achieve industry leading operating and financial performance and look forward to showcasing our leadership team at a future date.”

CSX also announced that its board of directors has authorized $1.5 billion in share repurchases, which builds on the $1.5 billion program recently completed.

“The board’s action to expand the repurchase program demonstrates our confidence in CSX’s long term future and ability to generate substantial free cash flow,” Harrison said.

CSX Reports 2nd Quarter Net Income Up

July 19, 2017

CSX reported this week that its net profit rose nearly 33 percent in the second quarter.

However, when controlling for the effects of $122 million in restructuring charges, the net profit was up just 15 percent.

Most of those charges involved reimbursing CEO E. Hunter Harrison and hedge fund Mantle Ridge for salary and benefits that Harrison gave up because his left his job as head of Canadian Pacific five months early.

Discounting the restructuring charges, CSX posted an operating ratio of 63.2 percent for the second quarter of 2017. Taking the restructuring charges into account, the operating ratio was 67.4 percent compared to 68.9 percent compared with the second quarter of 2016.

An operating ratio is a measure of company efficiency that compares operating expenses to net sales. The smaller the ratio, the greater a company’s ability to generate profit if its revenues fall.

Adjusting for restructuring charges, CSX expects a full-year operating ratio in the mid-60s,  with earnings per share growth of around 25 percent off the 2016 reported base of $1.81, and free cash flow before dividends of around $1.5 billion.

CSX reported revenue of $2.9 billion, an increase of 8 percent from $2.7 billion in the 2016 second quarter. Expenses fell 6 percent, led by a 15-percent drop in fuel costs.

The restructuring charges also included $22 million for management layoffs. The CSX management ranks have fallen by 951 employees this year.

CSX said that during the quarter its train velocity was up 3 percent compared with the same period in 2016.

Terminal dwell time was down 2 percent. On-time originations were 88 percent and on-time arrivals were 79 percent, a 14-percent gain over 2016.

During the second quarter of this year, CSX said it had an 8 percent increase in revenue following a 2 percent traffic increase. Freight rates were up nearly 4 percent.

CSX said its pricing and volume gains were led by export coal. Merchandise and intermodal pricing gains were 2.2 percent, which CSX said reflected the continued “challenging freight marketplace.”

Coal traffic was up 7 percent while intermodal rose 3 percent. Merchandise traffic fell 2 percent, which the railroad attributed to across-the-board declines in virtually every category.

For the quarter, CSX reported net earnings of $510 million, or 55 cents per share, up from $445 million, or 47 cents per share, a year ago. Excluding the restructuring charges, CSX reported earnings of 64 cents per share.

CSX Declares 11% Dividend for 1st Quarter

April 25, 2017

CSX last week declared an 11 percent increase in its quarterly dividend while also announcing that it will spend $1 billion to buy back shares of its stock.

The railroad expects to issue financial guidance as it applies the precision railroading model to its operations.

The quarterly dividend, which increased from 18 cents to 20 cents, is payable on June 15 to shareholders of record as of May 31.

“Although we are just in the beginning phase of making changes to our network, we are off to a great start,” said President and Chief Executive Officer E. Hunter Harrison in a news release. “These changes are critical to driving strong, sustainable service for our customers and superior value for our shareholders.”

During 2017, CSX said that it expects to achieve record gains in efficiency and a step-function improvement in its key financial measures this year given continued economic growth and stable coal markets.

It predicted that its operating ratio for the year will fall in the mid-60s and earnings-per-share will grow 25 percent off the 2016 reported base of $1.81.

CSX said that the stock buyback program should be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2018.

CSX 1st Quarter Net Income up 2%

April 21, 2017

CSX said on Thursday that its first quarter 2017 net income rose 2 percent to $362 million, or 39 cents per share.

In a news release, CSX said that discounting a $173 million restructuring charge, the adjusted earnings were 51 cents per share.

Those numbers compare with net income of $356 million, or 37 cents per share in the first quarter of 2016.

During the first quarter of this year revenue was up 10 percent to $2.87 billion compared with $2.6 billion in 2016.

CSX attributed the revenue growth to volume growth across most markets, overall core pricing gains and increased fuel recovery.

The railroad believes that its second quarter outlook is favorable because of anticipated growth in most markets, including agriculture and food, export coal, fertilizers, forest products, intermodal and minerals.

The business outlook is neutral outlook for automotive, chemicals, metals and equipment. The domestic coal market has an unfavorable outlook for domestic coal.

CEO E. Hunter Harrison said during a conference call that CSX expects to have an operating ratio in 2017 in the mid-60s, earnings per share growth of around 25 percent off the 2016 reported base of $1.81, and free cash flow before dividends of around $1.5 billion.

The CSX board of directors have approved a $1 billion share repurchase program, which management expects to complete by the end of the first quarter of 2018.

CSX began buying back shares of its stock in April 2015 and has spent $2 billion on that to date.

As for capital spending, CSX now expects to invest $2.1 billion in 2017, including approximately $270 million for Positive Train Control.

More than half of the 2017 capital spending will be used to sustain core infrastructure with the balance allocated to projects supporting profitable growth, efficiency initiatives and service improvements.

CSX trimmed its capital budget for this year by $100 million. Some planned capital projects are being paused as management continues to study its terminal and operating plans.

As expected, CSX plans to continue creating longer passing sidings, particularly in the Chicago-Florida corridor where train lengths are limited by 6,500-foot sidings.

Under the Michael Ward administration, CSX had announced plans to extending or add 27 sidings in that corridor. Harrison expects to move some sidings to create a longer siding elsewhere.

“If we have sidings that are too short for the longer trains, we’re certainly not going to leave those sitting in the ground and not being utilized,” he said. “We’ll pick up one 6,500-foot siding and move it 15 miles down the railroad and put it with another 6,500. We’ve got a 13,000-foot siding.”

Since Harrison took over as CEO last month, CSX has laid off 765 employees – about 3 percent of its workforce – and further announcements are expected of continued cost cutting initiatives.

CSX chopped a record $420 million of expenses in 2016 and expects to top that this year.

Among the expected moves will be consolidating the railroad’s nine divisions. Also likely to be consolidated are the nine dispatching centers CSX now operates.

The streamlining of operations will result in 550 of the railroad’s 4,400 locomotives being removed from service and stored by the end of the summer. CSX has already mothballed another 550 locomotives.  About 25,000 freight cars will be stored.

CSX wants to impose a balance of operations over seven days a week and reduce the average terminal dwell time from 26 hours to somewhere in the high teens.

During the conference call, Harrison suggested that he does not expect any mergers or acquisitions to occur during the four-year life of his contract.

CSX Makes Traffic Gains, Still Faces Challenges

February 18, 2016

A CSX executive told a financial conference on Wednesday that falling coal traffic, the effects of a strong U.S. dollar and low global commodity prices challenged the railroad in 2015 and continue to offer strong headwinds as it navigates through 2016.

Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro told the Barclays Industrial Select Conference in Miami that in the past five years CSX has grown its merchandise and intermodal business faster than the economy and delivered strong pricing and efficiency gains.

Lonegro said that has enabled CSX to produce earnings per share of 4 percent and post an operating ratio below 70 percent in 2015.

CSX logo 1He said CSX expects its coal volume to fall more than 20 percent and most other markets to continue posting year-over-year declines in 2016.

“Based on the trends so far this year, we expect volume to decline in the mid-high single digits this quarter and to gradually moderate as we move through the year,” Lonegro said. “We expect first quarter earnings to decline significantly, reflecting both this volume environment and the fact that we are cycling more than $100 million in unique items from the first quarter of 2015.”

Lonegro told conference attendees that in 2016 CSX plans to reap $200 million in productivity savings.

The railroad expects to further reduce structural resources and match resources with volume declines near term while also remaining well-positioned to serve demand shifts once the economic challenges begin to subside.

“In this environment, we continue to focus on the things most in our control, including delivering safe, reliable service that increases operational efficiency and supports strong pricing for the value we provide to customers,” Lonegro said. “As we look toward a future with significantly less coal, our strategy includes rationalizing and realigning the network to match decreased demand in some markets and adjust to increases in others, investing in clearance and terminal projects to leverage intermodal growth, and optimizing technology to serve the CSX of tomorrow as we continue to target a mid-60s operating ratio longer term.”