CN Rail revenue falls 6.5 percent as freight volumes decline

(Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co reported a 6.5 percent fall in quarterly revenue on Tuesday as it moved lower volumes of crude oil, coal and fracking sand.

A Canadian National Railway train travels eastward on a track in Montreal, February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

Canada’s largest railroad said carloads fell 4.4 percent in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, and it expected total carloads for 2016 would decrease in the mid single-digit range.

CN also announced a new share repurchase program and declared a fourth-quarter 2016 dividend of thirty-seven-and-one-half cents.

U.S. grain revenue was up 20 percent during the quarter, while Canadian grain revenue was down 5 percent, partly because of a later than expected harvest of this year’s crop, said CN’s Chief Marketing Officer Jean-Jacques Ruest.

“We are now running at record weekly carloads for Canadian grain,” Ruest told analysts. “We anticipate upside in grain through to the third quarter of 2017.”

Canadian National said its operating ratio, a key metric, dropped to a record 53.3 percent, from 53.8 percent, a year earlier. The lower the ratio, which measures operating costs as a percentage of revenue, the more efficient the railroad.

Douglas Burtnick, deputy head of North American equities for Aberdeen Asset Management Inc, which owns around 300,000 shares of CN, said the company’s record low operating ratio would be difficult to maintain going forward, given factors like competition and colder weather.

“We do continue to expect the environment to be tough, and suspect that the record OR for this quarter will be very difficult to repeat down the road,” he wrote in an email.

Canadian National Chief Executive Luc Jobin, who took over the reins of the company on July 1, told analysts Tuesday evening not to expect major changes at the company.

“This is not a revolution, this is going to be an evolution,” he said.

The company’s net income fell to C$972 million ($728 million), or C$1.25 per share, from C$1.01 billion, or C$1.26 per share, a year earlier.

Revenue fell 6.5 percent to C$3.01 billion.

Analysts, on average, had expected earnings of C$1.22 per share on revenues of C$3.07 billion according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

CN also raised its full-year 2016 adjusted earnings forecast to approximately one percent higher than last year’s adjusted diluted EPS.

By contrast, rival Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd last week cut its full-year earnings forecast, due mainly to a delayed grain harvest and lower crude oil volumes.

Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru and Allison Lampert; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Andrew Hay