UPDATE 2-CN Railway profit climbs on record volumes; lifts outlook

Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:02pm EDT

(Adds comments from CEO, details on outlook for carload growth, revenue growth, and free cash flow)

TORONTO, July 21 (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co , the country's largest rail operator, reported a big spike in profit on Monday as it moved record volumes of goods and made a swift recovery from last quarter's brutal winter weather.

The Montreal-based railway also bolstered its 2014 financial outlook, saying it sees ongoing volume growth in such key markets as energy, grain and intermodal shipping containers.

"We are seeing a robust pipeline of growth, for the most part, across our lines of business," Chief Executive Claude Mongeau said on a conference call with analysts after markets closed. "It's tough to lap strong growth, year over year, but that's our agenda."

Shaking off the fall-out from a harsh winter that disrupted service and clogged North American rail corridors, CN said second-quarter revenue climbed 17 percent as carload volumes grew 11 percent.

The increase in revenue was mainly due to bigger volumes from Canada's record grain crop, robust energy markets, and market share gains in such sectors as intermodal traffic, CN said. Shipment backlogs also lifted volumes.

CN said it now expects to deliver "solid double-digit EPS growth" in 2014 over 2013 earnings per share of C$3.06, versus an earlier forecast of "aiming for double-digit" growth.

It also lifted its 2014 free cash flow forecast to a range of C$1.8 billion to C$2 billion, from a previous view of C$1.6 billion to C$1.7 billion.

CN has earmarked C$2.25 billion in capital spending this year on growth, efficiency and safety.

The results follow a better-than-expected performance from smaller rival Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd last week. CP said rising freight volumes and prices should push already record results to new highs later this year.

Net earnings for the quarter ended June 30 rose to C$847 million ($789.6 million), or C$1.03 per share, CN said, from C$717 million, or 84 Canadian cents per share, in the same period a year ago.

Excluding one-time gains, adjusted earnings per share were C$1.03, compared with 83 Canadian cents in the year-ago quarter.

Revenue grew 17 percent to C$3.11 billion, as carload volumes grew 11 percent.

Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of C$1.00 a share and revenue of C$3.10 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"It's solid financial results: in terms of revenue, expenses and free cash flow," Mongeau said. Free cash flow for the first half of 2014 rose to C$1.27 billion from C$788 million in the same period last year.

The railway's closely watched operating ratio improved by 1.3 points in the quarter, to a second-quarter record of 59.6 percent, from 60.9 percent a year ago.

A key measure of railroad efficiency, operating ratio is the percentage of revenue needed to maintain operations. The lower the number, the greater the efficiency. ($1 = 1.0727 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Susan Taylor; editing by Matthew Lewis and Cynthia Osterman)

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