A month has gone by since the last earnings report for Canadian National (CNI). Shares have lost about 1.8% in that time frame, outperforming the S&P 500.
Will the recent negative trend continue leading up to its next earnings release, or is CN due for a breakout? Before we dive into how investors and analysts have reacted as of late, let's take a quick look at its most recent earnings report in order to get a better handle on the important catalysts.
Earnings Miss at Canadian National in Q1
Canadian National Railway Company’s adjusted earnings of 88 cents per share (C$1.17) missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by a penny. However, the bottom line improved double digits on a year-over-year basis owing to higher revenues.
Moreover, quarterly revenues came in at $2,666 million (C$3,544 million), edging past the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2,612 million. The top line also improved on a year-over-year basis on the back of strong freight revenues and positive foreign currency impact. Also, rail freight revenues improved 11.3% year over year and contributed 96.3% to the top line.
On a year-over-year basis, freight revenues rose in Petroleum and Chemicals (30%), Metals and Minerals (9%), Forest Products (8%), Coal (15%), Grain and Fertilizers (7%), Intermodal (4%) as well as Automotive (7%). Overall, carloads (volumes) and revenue ton miles (RTMs) inched up 1% and 3%, respectively. Moreover, rail freight revenue per carload ascended 11% in the quarter under review. Additionally, rail freight revenue per RTM increased 8%.
The Petroleum and Chemicals sub-group performed impressively with respect to carloads with the metric increasing10% year over year. In Grain and Fertilizers, volumes rose 3%. Carloads also expanded 3% at the Automotive segment. However, the metric contracted 3% and 4% at the Metals and Minerals and the Forest Products segments, respectively. Meanwhile, it remained flat at the Coal and Intermodal units.
Adjusted operating income increased 13% year over year to C$1,164 million. Adjusted operating ratio (defined as operating expenses as a percentage of revenues) improved to 67.2% from 76.8% in the year-ago quarter. Notably, lower value of this key metric bodes well for the company.
However, operating expenses rose 14% year over year to C$2,464 million. This downside was mainly due to high labor costs, elevated costs as a result of severe weather conditions and other factors.
The company exited the first quarter with cash and cash equivalents of C$339 million compared with C$266 million at the end of 2018. Free cash flow came in at C$286 million compared with C$322 million in the year-ago period. Long-term debt amounted to C$11,692 million as of Mar 31, 2019 compared with C$11,385 million in December 2018.
2019 Outlook Reaffirmed
For 2019, Canadian National anticipates adjusted earnings per share to grow in the range of low double-digits compared with C$5.50 in the prior-year period. RTMs are expected to witness a high single-digit volume expansion on the back of significant growth opportunities along with a favorable economy.
How Have Estimates Been Moving Since Then?
It turns out, fresh estimates have trended downward during the past month.
Currently, CN has a subpar Growth Score of D, though it is lagging a bit on the Momentum Score front with an F. Charting a somewhat similar path, 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 F. If you aren't focused on one strategy, this score is the one you should be interested in.
Estimates have been broadly trending downward for the stock, and the magnitude of these revisions indicates a downward shift. Notably, CN has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). We expect an in-line return from the stock in the next few months.
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