BUSINESS

Union Pacific railroad delivers 3Q profit in line with reduced forecast it issued this month

10/17/2013 08:42 EDT | Updated 12/17/2013 05:12 EST
OMAHA, Neb. - Union Pacific said its third-quarter profit rose 10 per cent as higher shipping rates helped the railroad offset flat volume overall and the traffic disruptions caused by last month's flooding in Colorado.

The results released Thursday were roughly in line with the reduced forecast Union Pacific issued this month and Wall Street expectations.

The Omaha-based railroad reported net income of $1.15 billion, or $2.48 per share, in the quarter ended Sept. 30. That's up from $1.04 billion, or $2.19 per share, a year ago.

Union Pacific Corp.'s revenue grew 4 per cent to $5.57 billion.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings of $2.48 per share on higher revenue of $5.61 billion.

Its shares fell $6, or 3.8 per cent, to close at $151.16 on Thursday. Its shares are still up 22 per cent so far this year.

Edward Jones analyst Logan Purk said he thinks Union Pacific's reduced earnings forecast earlier this month was a byproduct of overheated expectations, not problems at the railroad.

"I'm not worried about the operation of Union Pacific. It is the darling railroad, and expectations reflected that," Purk said.

Union Pacific officials are expecting the economy to continue growing slowly. CEO Jack Koraleski said the recent budget debate in Washington, D.C., didn't appear to affect the economy, but he worries that a repeat performance a few months from now could hurt consumer confidence.

"It's very concerning for us given that 70 per cent of the economy is driven by consumer spending," Koraleski said.

In the third quarter, Union Pacific said the number of carloads of coal, grain and intermodal shipping containers all declined, but improvements in other sectors balanced out those declines for flat volume overall.

Shipments of industrial products grew 9 per cent as construction activity picked up, and automotive shipments improved 8 per cent on strong sales. Chemical shipments were also up 3 per cent.

Koraleski said it's too soon to say whether coal shipments will settle in around the current level of 282,000 carloads in the third quarter. Union Pacific and the other major freight railroads have been dealing with weak coal demand because cheap natural gas prompted many utilities to switch fuels.

Price increases helped the railroad offset the volume declines in some areas. Agriculture was the only sector were Union Pacific's revenue declined and that only slipped 2 per cent.

Purk said Union Pacific's pricing power was helped by being able to renegotiate old contracts that had outdated rates.

Union Pacific said the flooding in Colorado cost the railroad $10 million in the quarter for repairs and lost business.

The railroad repurchased nearly 3.7 million shares for $575 million reducing the number of shares outstanding by 2 per cent.

Union Pacific operates 32,400 miles of track in 23 states from the Midwest to the West and Gulf coasts.

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Online:

Union Pacific Corp.: www.up.com