CP Rail beats earnings forecasts as Q4 profit up 21 per cent despite softer revenues

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. is optimistic about 2021 after concluding a record year with net profits surging nearly 21 per cent in the fourth quarter despite softer revenues.

"We're ready for the year. We've got the momentum. Moving into '21, wind's at our back. This team is ready to produce," president and CEO Keith Creel said in an earnings call Wednesday.

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The Calgary-based railway says it earned $802 million or $5.95 per diluted share, up from $664 million or $4.82 per share in the prior year.

Adjusted profit for the three months ended Dec. 31 was $683 million, up four per cent from $656 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.

That equalled $5.06 per share, a six per cent increase from $4.77 per share in the prior year quarter.

Revenues slipped three per cent to $2.01 billion from $2.07 billion.

CP Rail was expected to earn $5.02 in adjusted profits on $2.07 billion of revenues, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

CP's operating ratio, an industry metric where a lower ratio means more efficient operations, was a quarterly low of 53.9 per cent and a record 57.1 per cent for the full year.

The railway said it set several records for the year, including train length increasing nine per cent year-over-year, train weight up six per cent and train accidents down nine per cent to an unprecedented low.

It earned $2.44 billion for the year as revenues slipped one per cent to $7.71 billion.

Adjusted profits were $2.4 billion, up from $2.29 billion in 2019. That translated into a record $17.67 per share, up 7.5 per cent from $16.44 in the prior year.

Creel said the railway is targeting double-digit adjusted EPS growth, high single-digit volume growth, improved margins and $1.55 billion in capital expenditures.

Chief marketing officer John Brooks said volumes steadily improved through the fourth quarter.

"Continuing the trend we saw in Q3, and I, frankly, believe that we have hit the inflection point through this pandemic and the issues faced in 2020, and we will continue to gain momentum and see positive volumes as we move into 2021," he told analysts.

On a currency adjusted basis, grain volumes rose 18 per cent in the quarter while grain revenues rose eight per cent. Potash volumes increased 25 per cent in the quarter to conclude a record year for revenue and tonnage.

Forest products volumes were up 17 per cent and revenues up 14 per cent while automotive revenues gained 31 per cent to a record quarterly high while volumes rose 57 per cent.

Coal volumes fell one per cent, energy down 27 per cent and intermodal quarterly volumes were down one per cent.

"We finished the year strong and we're carrying momentum into 2021. Now as I look ahead to 2021, there remains a full pipeline of opportunities that have yet to ramp up and that are under development," Brooks added.

The results revealed after stock markets closed follow its decision to seek shareholder and regulatory approval for a five-for-one split of its common shares.

Creel said the railway believes the share split will encourage greater liquidity for CP's shares by making them available to a wider group of investors.

Shareholders are scheduled to vote on the proposed split on April 21.

If approved, shareholders will be entitled to four additional shares for each share held, on a date that is still to be determined.

CP's shares fell $10.90, or 2.5 per cent, to $423.17 in Wednesday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The railway also says the TSX has accepted its notice to buy back up to 2.5 per cent of its outstanding common shares over the coming year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CP)

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