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7 Companies to Post Big Profit Gains

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Norfolk Southern (NSC - Get Report) also owns 21,000 miles of track throughout the eastern U.S. and serves major intermodal ports. Its mix of products hauled is: coal, 28%; intermodal traffic, 19%; and a mix of car, agriculture, metal, chemical and forest products.

Its shares are up 10% this year and 28% over the past year, giving it a market value of $24 billion.

Morningstar analysts say Norfolk Southern is "one of the best-run railroads in North America. The firm normally generates one of the top operating ratios in the industry, and produced around $1 billion of free cash during four of the past five years. We like Norfolk's strong operations, defensive freight mix and expansion plans."

S&P gives it a "buy" rating and four out of a possible five stars and has a 12-month price target of $75 on its shares. Shares are currently trading at $68.68.

S&P analysts expect its revenue to rise 7% this year after a 19% increase in 2010. "With auto and steel production forecast to rise globally, we think NSC's metallurgical coal volumes will stay elevated during 2011," they said in a research note. "We also see it benefiting from production coming on line at two auto plants, as well as increases in ethanol production along its network."

For fiscal 2011, analysts estimate that Norfolk Southern will earn $4.65 per share in 2011 and that will rise 15% to $5.34 per share in 2012.

Analysts tracked by TheStreet give the company 18 "strong buy" ratings, three "moderate buys" and seven "holds."

Sweetening the pot, Norfolk Southern pays a higher dividend than other railroads as it currently has a 2.36% yield.

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