CSX, the nation's third largest railroad, said Tuesday that "gradual and steady growth" in the economy drove its first-quarter profit up 20 percent compared with its earnings in the depths of the recession a year ago.
The railroad's results also point to an economic recovery under way without the help of consumers, who are still worried about their bank accounts and how much their houses are worth. Railroads are indicators of broader economic health because they carry so many things people and businesses use every day.
CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., said the greatest improvements came in shipments of cars and trucks, fertilizers, metals and transfers from trucks.
Automotive shipments soared the most — 64 percent — as North American car and truck production picked up. At this time last year, General Motors was within months of filing for bankruptcy protection and auto sales were reaching decade-lows.
Transfers from trucks, or intermodal shipments, increased as some major companies shifted their products to trains to save money on fuel. Rails have also become faster and more efficient in recent years, making them a more attractive way to ship items that can be moved more slowly — like big appliances and electronics from Asia.
While most CSX shipments rose, the company said coal and consumer-related volume was still weak. A drop-off in building products and other shipments related to the housing market persisted. Coal shipments to utilities fell because less power demand from consumers and businesses left power generators with big stockpiles of coal. Fewer shipments to U.S. customers were partially offset by greater demand from China for coal used to make steel.
CSX earned $306 million, or 78 cents per share in the quarter, compared with $254 million, or 62 cents per share, a year earlier.
Revenue rose 11 percent to $2.49 billion.
The results surprised Wall Street analysts, who expected profit of 69 cents per share on revenue of $2.38 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.
CSX shares rose 97 cents, about 2 percent, to $53.85 in after-hours trading
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