Canadian National Railway's CEO Discusses Q1 2012 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

Canadian National Railway (CNI)

Q1 2012 Earnings Call

April 23, 2012 4:30 pm ET


Robert Noorigian - Vice President of Investor Relations

Claude Mongeau - Chief Executive Officer, President, Director, Chairman of Donations & Sponsorships Committee and Member of Strategic Planning Committee

Keith E. Creel - Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President

Jean-Jacques Ruest - Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President

Luc Jobin - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice-President


William J. Greene - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Cherilyn Radbourne - TD Securities Equity Research

Ken Hoexter - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Benoit Poirier - Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division

Scott H. Group - Wolfe Trahan & Co.

Walter Spracklin - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

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

Fadi Chamoun - BMO Capital Markets Canada

Christian Wetherbee - Citigroup Inc, Research Division

David Tyerman - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

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

Matthew Troy - Susquehanna Financial Group, LLLP, Research Division

Christopher J. Ceraso - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

H. Peter Nesvold - Jefferies & Company, Inc., Research Division

Brandon R. Oglenski - Barclays Capital, Research Division

Konark Gupta - Cormark Securities Inc., Research Division

Jeffrey A. Kauffman - Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., Research Division

Keith Schoonmaker - Morningstar Inc., Research Division



I would now like to remind you that today's remarks contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of applicable securities laws. Such statements are based on assumptions that may not materialize and are subject to risks described in CN's first quarter 2012 financial results press release and analysts presentation documents that could be found on CN's website. As such, actual results could differ materially. Reconciliations for any non-GAAP measures are also posted on CN's website at

Welcome to CN's First Quarter 2012 Financial Results Conference Call. I would now like to turn the meeting over to Mr. Robert Noorigian, Vice President, Investor Relations. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Noorigan.

Robert Noorigian

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us for CN's first quarter 2012 financial results. I'd like to remind you about the comments that have already been made regarding forward-looking statements. With us today is Claude Mongeau, President and Chief Executive Officer; Luc Jobin, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; Keith Creel, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer; J.J. Ruest, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. And we consider that we had a superb quarter, and we would really appreciate it when the Q&A starts that if you would kindly focus your questions on CN and business related to CN. [Operator Instructions]

With that, it's now my pleasure to introduce Mr. Claude Mongeau, CN's President and Chief Executive Officer.

Claude Mongeau

Thank you, Bob, and I'm here in a foggy Halifax with the team to cover these results with you. We have our AGM, and I'm very pleased that we will be officially finishing the cycle for 2011 and starting the cycle for 2012 with very, very solid results. Our Q1 results were helped by milder winter throughout our serving territory. But make no mistake, these results are about strong execution. The CN team delivered on all key fronts, whether it's growth, whether it's efficiency, whether it's safety. Our agenda is working, and it's showing through in very solid financial results for our shareholders.

Revenues during the quarter were up double digit, about 12% to be exact, J.J. will give you the details. We're seeing good growth across all of the commodity markets we serve. Our ability to accommodate that growth at a low incremental cost and to balance service and operational excellence also show through during the quarter. Keith will give you some you key metrics around those lines, but our operating ratio at 66.2% is a record operating ratio for a first quarter and it's a full 2.8% improvement versus last year.

In terms of earnings, and I'm looking at it here on an adjusted basis, we delivered $1.18, which is up 31% over last year. I'd be remiss if I didn't focus on the weather, obviously, the fact that we had one extra day also helped. There's perhaps 1/3 of that EPS growth on a year-over-year basis, which is due to those factors. But nevertheless, solid, solid first quarter result and Luc will give you all the details, including some of our monetization and how we are able to use and then deliver very strong free cash flow.

So solid results overall, I'll ask the team to give you the details and I'll wrap up at the end. Keith, over to you.

Keith E. Creel

Okay. Thanks for the comments, Claude. Let me say that while definitely a milder winter in 2011, 2012 first quarter was not without its operational challenges. But regardless, the tenacity and the execution of this operating team produced some pretty solid results.

Let's start with a view of the operating metrics that we report quarterly. We always provide a good overview of our productivity and the fluidity of our operation.

As you can see on the charts, we produced improvements across the board on all operating metrics. Due to a traffic mix change, our trainload was only up 1%. However, train length was up about 3% year-over-year. So regardless of the mix change, we continue to increase efficiency of our trains.

Of the other metrics, as you see here at least by -- up at least 3% relative to last year, which has allowed us to absorb our growth at a lower incremental cost. All a very solid performance of a talented and dedicated railroaders we have from this team.

Let's stay in the interest of providing a bit more relative first quarter comparison to proxy, let's compare our performance. In the first quarter of 2010, which is a winter similar to this year, we also showed improvements in all of our metrics. As you see, the only exception to this metrics are in train speed and locomotive productivity. These are 2 metrics which we have impacted consciously for their efforts to focus squarely on maximizing the throughput of our Bulk logistics supply chain. I'll give you a quick example. Of the sheer goal of pushing more coal to our supply chain, we're working with our supply-chain partners to forge to ensure that we consistently have a train ready to take advantage of our unload windows.

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