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Earnings Watch: Landstar Beats Fourth Quarter Expectations

January 28, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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The asset light trucking and logistics provider Landstar System Inc. (NASDAQ: LSTR) on Thursday reported a decline in its fourth quarter profit – but it was higher than expected, and the company improved its annual performance.

Net income during the final quarter of 2015 totaled $37.9 million, or 88 cents per diluted share, compared to $38.5 million, or 86 cents per diluted share a year earlier. This latest per share performance was the highest fourth-quarter number from continuing operations in Landstar history, and was 1 cent better than expectations from Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue for the most recent quarter was $849 million compared to $863 million in the 2014 period. Operating income improved to $62.6 million from $61.2 million.

"Given the backdrop of a low growth macro environment and very difficult year-over-year comparisons, I am very pleased with our 2015 fourth quarter operating performance," said Landstar President and CEO Jim Gattoni.

Truck transportation revenue hauled by independent contactor drivers (what the company calls business capacity owners) and truck brokerage carriers in the 2015 fourth quarter was $786.4 million, or 93% of revenue, compared to $811.2 million, or 94% of revenue a year earlier.

Truckload revenue hauled via van equipment in the 2015 fourth quarter was $481.4 million compared to $499.7 million in the 2014 fourth quarter. Truckload revenue hauled via unsided/platform equipment in the 2015 fourth quarter was $285.6 million compared to $289.6 million a year earlier. Revenue hauled by rail, air and ocean cargo carriers was $50.6 million, or 6% of revenue, in the 2015 fourth quarter compared to $41 million, or 5% of revenue, in the 2014 fourth quarter.

The number of loads hauled via truck in the 2015 fourth quarter increased 7% over the 2014 fourth quarter, while the number of loads hauled via railroads, ocean cargo carriers and air cargo carriers increased 35% over the 2014 fourth quarter, according to Gattoni.

The growth in the number of loads hauled via truck was driven by increased volumes from unsided/platform equipment, van equipment and less-than-truckload services of 12%, 4%, and 6%, respectively, he said.

The growth in the number of loads hauled via unsided/platform equipment in the 2015 fourth quarter was entirely attributed to the continuation of demand from one shipper in the automotive sector for a project that began in April 2015, according to Landstar. Otherwise, unsided/platform volumes were 4% lower in the 2015 fourth quarter compared to a year earlier. The company expects the number of loads hauled on behalf of that shipper for this project to be insignificant in the 2016 first quarter.

“As expected, revenue per load on loads hauled via truck was lower in the 2015 fourth quarter as compared to the 2014 fourth quarter,” Gattoni said. “Truck revenue per load in the 2015 fourth quarter was 9% lower as compared to the 2014 fourth quarter, mostly due to the impact of lower diesel fuel costs on loads hauled via truck brokerage carriers, the difficult comparison to record truck revenue per load experienced in the 2014 fourth quarter and a somewhat softer freight environment."

For 2015, the Florida-based company saw net income improve to $147.7 million, or $3.37 per diluted share, compared to $138.8 million and $3.07, respectively, in 2014. Operating income increased to $241.7 million last year versus $224.4 million in 2014.

According to Gattoni, during the first three weeks of the 2016 first quarter, growth in the number of loads hauled via truck softened somewhat when compared to the quarter-over-quarter growth rates experienced during 2015.

“I expect the number of loads hauled via truck in the 2016 first quarter to increase in a low to mid-single digit range over the 2015 first quarter. As it pertains to revenue per load on loads hauled via truck, a low growth environment and looser capacity is putting further pressure on rates,” he said. “However, I do not expect a significant change in the rate environment over the balance of the 2016 first quarter. As such, I expect revenue per load on loads hauled via truck in the 2016 first quarter to be below the 2015 first quarter in a mid-single digit percentage range."

Gattoni also said that assuming the current business environment continues throughout the 2016 first quarter, he anticipates revenue for the period to be in a range of $720 million to $770 million, with diluted earnings per share to be in a range of 70 cents to 75 cents per share, compared to 67 cents in the 2015 first quarter.

“From a longer term perspective, recent turmoil in world markets, the impact of a slowing global economy and uncertainty surrounding the 2016 election cycle all contribute to a highly unpredictable environment for our industry,” he said. “As such, we will not be providing annual guidance.”

In addition, Landstar announced that its board of directors declared a quarterly dividend of 8 cents per share payable on March 11 to stockholders of record at the close of business on Feb. 15. The board plans to pay dividends on a quarterly basis going forward.

More details can be found on the Landstar investor relations website.

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