NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa, April 16, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Heartland Express, Inc. (Nasdaq:HTLD) announced today financial results for the quarter ended March 31, 2013. Operating revenues for the quarter were relatively flat at $134.3 million versus $134.8 million in the first quarter of 2012. Net income was $19.7 million compared to $16.6 million in the 2012 period, a 19.0% increase. Basic earnings per share increased 21.4% to $0.23 from $0.19 reported in the first quarter of 2012. Operating income for the three month period was positively impacted by a $7.0 million increase in gains on disposal of property and equipment but was negatively impacted by weather complications year over year. Also, with Easter and Good Friday falling in the first quarter of 2013 compared to being in the second quarter of 2012, as well as 2012 being a Leap Year, first quarter revenues were negatively impacted by less business days. For the quarter, Heartland Express, Inc. (the "Company") posted an operating ratio (operating expenses as a percentage of operating revenues) of 77.5% and a 14.7% net margin (net income as a percentage of operating revenues) compared to 82.4% and 12.3%, respectively, in the first quarter of last year.
Fuel expense continues to have a significant impact to operations from quarter to quarter. During the past eight quarters, including the first quarter of 2013, fuel expense has exceeded salaries, wages, and benefits as our largest expense for six of the eight quarters. Historically, prior to significant fuel price increases in 2008, salaries, wages, and benefits was our largest expense. Fuel expense continues to hinder our operating margins. Fuel expense increased $0.3 million or 0.6% during the quarter, primarily due to harsher winter conditions, causing higher idle of tractors, and higher fuel prices during the first quarter of 2013 compared to the first quarter of 2012. The U.S. average cost of fuel was $4.026 per gallon during the first quarter of 2013, a 1.0% increase over the first quarter of the prior year. The Company continues to focus on fuel surcharge pricing, truck idling hours, overall tractor fuel economy, and fuel purchasing decisions in an effort to lessen the impact of higher fuel costs.