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Swift Transportation soars on strong 4Q earnings

NEW YORK (AP) -- Swift Transportation Co.'s shares soared Thursday after the truckload delivery company's fourth-quarter performance exceeded market expectations.

THE SPARK: The company reported after the market closed Wednesday that its fourth-quarter net income jumped 27 percent from a year ago to $46.9 million or 34 cents per share. After stripping out one-time charges, earnings amounted to 38 cents per share. Analysts polled by FactSet expected 26 cents per share.

Revenue for the quarter rose 7 percent to $922.6 million, also beating analysts' estimates of $885 million.

THE BIG PICTURE: Swift operates trucks, trailers and other equipment to move goods. The Phoenix-based company has cut the number of trucks it operates and improved revenue per truck, benefiting from lower insurance costs and better fuel efficiency. It also paid down debt during the quarter.

THE ANALYSIS: Stifel Nicolaus analysts John Larkin and Michael Baudendistel said that Swift remains its "best idea." They kept a "Buy" rating on the company's shares.

The analysts increased their earnings estimates for 2013 and 2014 from $1.02 to $1.14 and from $1.15 to $1.30, respectively. They expect the company will continue to make progress lowering its debt and improving productivity. They also increased their target price on shares from $15 to $18.

SHARE ACTION: In afternoon trading Swift shares were up $2.63, or 25.7 percent, at $12.86. They hit a new 52-week high of $13.01 earlier in the session.