Norfolk Southern (NSC)

Q3 2011 Earnings Call

October 26, 2011 4:30 pm ET


Donald W. Seale - Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President

Michael Hostutler -

James A. Squires - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President of Finance

Mark D. Manion - Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President

Charles W. Moorman - Executive Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President and Chairman of Executive Committee


Scott H. Group - Wolfe Trahan & Co.

Ken Hoexter - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

William J. Greene - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Edward Neal Deaton - BB&T Capital Markets, Research Division

Cherilyn Radbourne - TD Newcrest Capital Inc., Research Division

Walter Spracklin - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

Garrett L. Chase - Barclays Capital, Research Division

Keith Schoonmaker - Morningstar Inc., Research Division

Benjamin J. Hartford - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division

Matthew Troy - Susquehanna Financial Group, LLLP, Research Division

Donald Broughton - Avondale Partners, LLC, Research Division

David Vernon - Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., LLC., Research Division

Christian Wetherbee - Citigroup Inc, Research Division

Christopher J. Ceraso - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Jason H. Seidl - Dahlman Rose & Company, LLC, Research Division

Thomas R. Wadewitz - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

Unknown Analyst -

Robert H. Salmon - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division



Greetings, and welcome to the Norfolk Southern Third Quarter 2011 Analyst Call. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. It is now my pleasure to introduce Mr. Michael Hostutler, Norfolk Southern Director of Investor Relations. Thank you. Mr. Hostutler, you may begin.

Michael Hostutler

Thank you, and good afternoon. Before we begin today's call, I would like to mention a few items. First, the slides of the presenters are available on our website at in the Investors section. Additionally, transcripts and mp3 downloads of today's call will be posted on our website for your convenience.

Please be advised that any forward-looking statements made during the course of the call represent our best good faith judgment as to what may occur in the future. Statements that are forward looking can be identified by the use of words such as believe, expect, anticipate and project. Our actual results may differ materially from those projected and will be subject to a number of risks and uncertainties, some of which may be outside of our control. Please refer to our annual and quarterly reports filed with the SEC for discussions of those risks and uncertainties we view as most important. Additionally, keep in mind that all references to reported results, excluding certain adjustments, that is non-GAAP numbers have been reconciled on our website at in the Investors Section.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce Norfolk Southern Chairman, President and CEO, Wick Moorman.

Charles W. Moorman

Thank you, Michael, and good afternoon, everyone. It's my pleasure to welcome you to our third quarter 2011 earnings conference call. With me today are several members of our senior team, including Don Seale, our Chief Marketing Officer; Mark Manion, our Chief Operating Officer; and Jim Squires, our Chief Financial Officer, all of whom you'll hear from this afternoon.

Continuing to build on the first half's momentum, Norfolk Southern produced excellent results in the third quarter. We achieved all-time highs for any quarter, in income from operations and earnings per share, and our third quarter operating ratio of 67.5% equaled our best ever performance. As you would expect, these third quarter results, coupled with the first 2 quarters which were also outstanding, led to across-the-board record results for the 9-month period, including all-time highs for revenues, income from operations, operating ratio, net income and earnings per share. Much of this was driven by continuing improvement in our service product, which helped to produce significant growth in revenues. Don will provide you with all of the details in a few minutes, but let me give you a few highlights.

The trends of the first 2 quarters extended into the third as we continued to see highway conversions lead Intermodal unit growth of 8% for the quarter and 9% year-to-date. Similarly, export coal volume has sustained its strong pace, up 23% for the quarter and 24% for the year-to-date. We foresee solid strength in these markets continuing into the fourth quarter and on into 2012.

With respect to service, we achieved another quarterly sequential improvement with the third quarter composite service index of 78.2, representing a 160-basis point improvement over the second quarter. Mark will give you all the operations details a little later.

As you all know, we have consistently been investing in our service product in terms of both increased crew hiring, as well as investments in assets and technology. While these investments have obviously impacted our expenses, they have also allowed us to efficiently bring on increasing volumes into our network, resulting in significant operating leverage and our record-tying OR of 67.5%.

These strong operating results have led to record cash flows for the first 9 months, which we have used to reinvest in our business and to reward our shareholders. I mentioned our investments in our company, and thus far in 2011, we spent $1.4 billion on capital projects, including items such as new locomotives, which provide both immediate and ongoing benefits, as well as longer-term projects such as terminals, which will add value beginning next year.

On the shareholder front, we paid $432 million so far this year in dividends, an 18% per share increase versus 2010. And in addition, we repurchased over $1.6 billion of our shares through the first 9 months. Both are clearly strong indicators in our belief in the continued future strength of our company.

I'll go ahead now and turn over the program to Don, Mark and Jim, and then I'll wrap up with some closing comments before we take your questions. Don?

Donald W. Seale

Thank you, Wick, and good afternoon to everyone. During the third quarter, we saw an economy that posted modest improvements and favorable global trade patterns. When combined with our ongoing new business development, we produced a strong quarter, which was within $5 million of our all-time high set in third quarter 2008. In total, revenue for the quarter reached $2.89 billion, up $433 million or 18% over the third quarter of last year, with yield improvement across all business groups and volume growth in Intermodal, Metals & Construction, Automotive and Coal.

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