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Stifel Upgrades Forward Air After Solid Q1, Says Freight Transporter Has Evolved Into 'More Cohesive Platform'

Shanthi Rexaline

Ground transportation company Forward Air Corporation (NASDAQ: FWRD) reported Wednesday after the close with higher operating revenues and earnings in the first quarter. 

The Analyst

Stifel analyst Bruce Chan upgraded shares of Forward Air from Hold to Buy and increased the price target from $62 to $64.

The Thesis

Despite challenging winter weather and chronic tightness in the owner-operator market, Forward Air delivered a solid result, Chan said in a Thursday note.

"A strong freight backdrop has helped the Expedited LTL division's push into the 3PL market, core linehaul yields have turned the corner and intermodal continues to be a growth engine," the analyst said.

The historically high usage of brokered transportation is Forward Air's biggest challenge and is hurting margins, Chan said. The analyst described the problem as temporary and said it could improve this year. 

Some of the company's longer-term strategic initiatives are bearing fruit, Chan said.

"Contract rates are catching up to capacity cost increases and efforts to mitigate mix effects are helping too, in our view."

Forward Air's onetime status as a decent airport-to-airport network "with some mediocre appendages" has evolved to "a more cohesive platform" with opportunities for top-line and earnings growth, Chan said. 

Stifel sees even more margin potential if Forward Air trims brokered transportation costs and increases the owner-operator pool.

The Price Action

Forward Air shares have lost about 8 percent year-to-date.

In early trading Thursday, the stock was rallying 7.04 percent to $56.42.

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Latest Ratings for FWRD

Date Firm Action From To
Apr 2018 Stifel Nicolaus Upgrades Hold Buy
Jan 2018 Baird Upgrades Neutral Outperform
Oct 2017 Stifel Nicolaus Maintains Hold

View More Analyst Ratings for FWRD
View the Latest Analyst Ratings

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