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Union Pacific shows gains as other railroads, including BNSF, struggled with weather

Thomas Black
(c) 2014, Bloomberg News.


DALLAS — Union Pacific Corp. reported earnings that beat analysts' estimates as the nation's largest publicly traded railroad rode a strong harvest and a factory rebound to higher volume amid harsh winter weather.

Net income jumped 14 percent to $1.1 billion, or $2.38 a share, Union Pacific said Thursday. Analysts had projected earnings excluding some costs and gains of $2.37 a share. Revenue rose 6.6 percent to $5.64 billion.

Union Pacific, which serves the western United States, was among the railroads least affected by snowstorms that pounded the Northeast, causing trains to slow and driving up costs for extra crews and fuel. Chief Financial Officer Rob Knight said in March the effects of winter could shave 3 to 4 cents from per-share earnings in the quarter.

U.S. factory production rose in February and March, driving Union Pacific's shipments of industrial goods and consumer products, while shale-oil drilling fueled demand for sand, pipe and crude oil. Agricultural revenue jumped 16 percent, the most of any business line at the Omaha, Neb.-based carrier.

"We continue to see Union Pacific as the best-positioned railroad given improving mix, solid network fluidity, productivity improvements and inflation-plus pricing," Robert Salmon, an analyst with Deutsche Bank in New York, wrote in an April 11 note.

Union Pacific's volume gain partly may have come at the expense of BNSF Railway Co., the railroad owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which struggled with congestion, Justin Long, an analyst with Stephens Inc., wrote in a March 31 note.

"The company is benefiting from a broad based recovery in demand and service issues at its main competitor," Long wrote in the note.

BNSF's service fell behind after it was hit by a record grain harvest, rising crude-oil volumes and harsh winter that gummed up the Chicago rail interchange, Chief Executive Officer Carl Ice said in an April 2 interview. It may take the rest of the year to bring service levels back to normal in BNSF's northern region, he said.

Railroads in the eastern U.S. were pounded the hardest by this year's storms. CSX Corp. said this week that higher costs and lost sales because of the weather reduced earnings by 9 percent.

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