J. B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., (NASDAQ:JBHT) announced record fourth quarter 2012 net earnings of $84 million, or diluted earnings per share of 70 cents vs. fourth quarter 2011 net earnings of $72.6 million, or 61 cents per diluted share. Fourth quarter 2011 results included $3.9 million of pretax expense related to severance agreements for executive retirees and a charitable contribution, which reduced net earnings by 2 cents per diluted share.
Total operating revenue for the current quarter was $1.34 billion, compared with $1.2 billion for the fourth quarter 2011. Load growth of 11% in Intermodal (JBI) helped drive a 13% increase in segment revenue. Dedicated Contract Services (DCS) segment revenue increased by 9% primarily from the addition of new accounts. Integrated Capacity Solutions (ICS) segment revenue increased by 30% mostly from a 47% increase in load volume. Truck (JBT) segment revenue decreased 12% primarily from a 19% reduction in fleet size compared to a year ago. Current quarter total operating revenue, excluding fuel surcharges, increased approximately 10% vs. the comparable quarter 2011.
Operating income for the current quarter increased to $143.3 million vs. $122.3 million for the fourth quarter 2011. The increase is primarily from the higher revenue on greater load volumes and improved network balance in JBI, new incremental customer accounts in DCS, and greater load volumes and better gross margins in ICS. These improvements were partially offset by increased costs across almost all cost categories. Cost controls allowed for operating income to grow at a faster pace than revenues, improving overall margin.
Net earnings rose 16% to $84.0 million in the current quarter from $72.6 million in 2011, primarily due to the growth in revenue, effective cost controls and a lower cost of borrowing. Compared with the same period 2011, net interest expense in the current quarter was down $1 million, primarily due to a reduction in our average interest rate. The annual and fourth quarter effective tax rates in 2012 were 38.5% and 39.16%, respectively. The annual and fourth quarter effective tax rates in 2011 were 38.18% and 37.5%, respectively.
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