It has been about a month since the last earnings report for Union Pacific (UNP). Shares have added about 6.1% in that time frame, outperforming the S&P 500.
Will the recent positive trend continue leading up to its next earnings release, or is Union Pacific due for a pullback? Before we dive into how investors and analysts have reacted as of late, let's take a quick look at the most recent earnings report in order to get a better handle on the important drivers.
Earnings Beat at Union Pacific in Q4
The company’s earnings of $2.12 per share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 6 cents. The bottom line also surged 39% on a year-over-year basis. Results were aided by higher revenues and a lower tax rate.
Operating revenues came in at $5,757 million, which outpaced the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $5,719.3 million. The figure also increased 6% year over year. Higher freight revenues (up 6%) boosted the top-line performance. The uptick was driven by volume growth of 3% and increased fuel surcharge revenues among other factors. Bulk of revenues (93.6%) at Union Pacific was derived from freight in the reported quarter.
Operating income in the fourth quarter declined 2% year over year to $2,210 million. Moreover, Union Pacific bought back 8 million shares at an aggregate value of $1.2 billion. Effective tax rate during the fourth quarter of 2018 came in at 22.9%.
Freight revenues in the Agricultural Products were $1,124 million, up 5% year over year. Revenue carloads declined 2% year over year. Moreover, average revenue per car increased 7%.
Freight revenues in the Energy division were $1,110 million, down 8% year over year. Also, revenue carloads fell 9% year over year. Moreover, average revenue per car was flat year over year.
Industrial freight revenues totaled $1,405 million, up 10% year over year. Revenue carloads increased 6% year over year. Also, average revenue per car was up 3%.
Freight revenues in the Premium division were $1,748 million, up 15% year over year. Revenue carloads increased 9% year over year. Average revenue per car also increased 6%.
Other revenues improved 2% to $370 million in the fourth quarter of 2018.
The company exited 2018 with cash and cash equivalents of $1,273 million compared with $1,275 million at the end of 2017. Debt (due after one year) came in at $20,925 million at the end of the quarter compared with $16,144 million at the end of 2017. Debt-to-EBITDA ratio (on an adjusted basis) increased to 2.3 from 1.9 at 2017 end.
Union Pacific expects revenue and volume growth in 2019 on the back of continued economic growth and improving service performance. Also, the company is highly optimistic about improving operating margins due to benefits arising from the company’s G55 + 0 initiatives, including Unified Plan 2020 as well as favorable pricing.
How Have Estimates Been Moving Since Then?
Fresh estimates followed an upward path over the past two months.
At this time, Union Pacific has a nice Growth Score of B, a grade with the same score on the momentum front. However, the stock was allocated a grade of D on the value side, putting it in the bottom 40% for this investment strategy.
Overall, the stock has an aggregate VGM Score of B. If you aren't focused on one strategy, this score is the one you should be interested in.
Union Pacific has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). We expect an above average return from the stock in the next few months.
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