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Earnings Watch: Swift Profits Fall, Forward Air and Marten Improve

April 21, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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UPDATED -- Truckload carrier Swift Transportation Co. (NYSE: SWFT) saw its net income decline in the first quarter of the year while profit for the time-definite transportation and logistics provider Forward Air Corp. (NASDAQ:FWRD) more than doubled as refrigerated hauler Marten Transport Ltd. (NASDAQ: MRTN) reported a boost in two ways.

Net income for the Arizona-based Swift fell 15.7% to $31.9 million, from 26 cents per share to 23 cents. Adjusted earning per share were 25 cents, beating a consensus estimate by Zacks Investment Research by 3 cents.

Total revenue fell 4.7% to $967.8 million, but revenue minus fuel surcharge improved 1.3% to $906.9 million.

According to Swift, the first quarter began with a soft freight environment, which caused the total loaded miles for combined trucking operations to be down roughly 4% on a year-over-year basis through January.

“Although freight volumes improved throughout the month of February, March proved to be challenging as freight volumes again weakened year over year, causing our first quarter 2016 combined trucking operations total loaded miles to decrease 1.5% compared to the first quarter of 2015,” the company said in its letter to shareholders.

Because of this, Swift said it has moved to downsize its combined trucking fleet by delaying equipment purchases while increasing tractor disposals.

“We expect these initiatives to reduce consolidated average operational truck count by roughly 200 units when comparing our first quarter 2016 to our second quarter of 2016, but we will continue to monitor the market and will adjust the fleet up or down as needed,” the company said.

Swift said the pricing environment in the first quarter under pressure from weak demand trends and excess capacity.

“Pricing was especially difficult within our Intermodal and Swift Refrigerated segments, as we saw intermodal providers reduce rates in an attempt to gain market share. We strategically resisted the impulse to lower our intermodal pricing in response but instead decided to remain disciplined to moving only intermodal freight that meets our pricing and network standards” the company said. “To help offset these pressures, we also implemented several short- and long-term intermodal cost control initiatives.”

Intermodal segment revenue less fuel surcharge dropped by 1.8% to $75.9 million in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the first quarter of 2015. Swift said this was primarily driven by a 2.2% decrease in load counts but partially offset by a 0.4% increase in revenue minus fuel surcharge per load.

The company's refrigerated operations suffered a loss of business resulting from a change in strategy by two key customers, accounting for most of a $7.5 million drop in revenue minus fuel charge in this segment, which fell to $76.9 million, Swift said. However, the company found new business, most of which is scheduled to begin in the second quarter.

Swift said its truckload segment saw first quarter revenue minus fuel surcharges drop $13 million from a year ago to $455.8 million, driven mainly by a 3.4% reduction in loaded miles driven. That was partially offset by a 0.6% year-over-year increase in revenue minus fuel surcharge per loaded mile.

Dedicated segment revenue minus fuel surcharge grew 12.1% to $219.8 million in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the first quarter of 2015.

“This growth was driven by a 9.2% increase in weekly revenue minus fuel surcharge per tractor to $3,500 primarily due to improved pricing and freight mix, and various new contracts that started over the last 12 months, which contributed to the 1.5% increase in our average operational truck count year-over-year,” the company said.

“We are laying the groundwork which should enable us to react and adjust quickly to what we expect will be a more favorable second half of 2016,” Swift said. “We anticipate the capacity-demand equation will tighten up in the back half of 2016, further bolstered throughout 2017 by the upcoming electronic device mandate."

However, the company now anticipates its full year 2016 adjusted earnings per share will be in the range of $1.45-$1.55, down from an estimate of $1.50 to $1.60 when it released fourth quarter 2015 earnings in January.

Forward Air Earnings Jump Following Completion of Purchase

Tennessee-based Forward Air the company has been only the second trucking company so far this earning season to report an increase in profit (following J.B. Hunt), hitting $13.1 million in the first quarter compared to $4.8 million a year earlier.

Part of this is due approximately $11.8 million in one-time deal and integration costs associated with the Towne Air acquisition that were included in the 2015 first quarter results.

Earnings per share also moved higher, as expected from an estimate by Zacks Investment Research, hitting 43 cents, up from 16 cents a year earlier. Revenue increased 11.5% to $229.5 million.

On an adjusted basis, income from operations of $21.4 million compared with $20.1 million a year earlier, and net income for the current period was $13.1 million compared to $12.1 million in the prior year quarter. Also, on an adjusted basis, income earnings per share for first quarter were 43 cents compared to 40 cents a year ago.

“In the aggregate, our results came in as we anticipated," said Bruce A. Campbell, chairman, president, and CEO. "Expedited less-than-truckload was the star performer, and our intermodal business posted a solid performance."

According to Campbell, Forward Air has been experiencing lighter volumes in the second quarter.

“Also, we have a difficult second-quarter revenue comparison, as a year ago we hadn’t eliminated lower-yielding business that resulted from the Towne acquisition,” he said. “We will, however, continue to benefit from the pricing and dimensional factor changes made over the last two quarters. This, along with post-integration operational efficiencies, should enable us to deliver meaningful earnings growth even if revenue growth remains tepid.”

Forward Air is projecting second quarter year-over-year revenue growth to be in the range of 1% to 5%, with income per diluted share to be between 57 cents and 61 cents, compared to an adjusted 51 cents per share in the second quarter of 2015.

Marten Earning Increase At Least 2.4%

Marten Transport reported first quarter net income of $8.2 million, or 25 cents per share.

This is an improvement of 2.4% over 2015 first quarter earnings of $8 million, or 24 cents per share, excluding a $3.7 million gain on a sale of property. Net income for the 2015 quarter, including the gain, was $10.2 million, or 30 cents share.

Revenue increased to $161.9 million for the 2016 quarter from $161.3 million a year earlier, despite substantially lower fuel surcharges due to decreased fuel prices in 2016, according to the Wisconsin-based carrier.

Fuel surcharge revenue decreased to $10 million from $20.6 million for the 2015 quarter.

“In the face of pricing pressures and a soft freight market since last year’s second quarter, we have continued to demonstrate disciplined execution of our unique, multifaceted and diverse business model," said Chairman and CEO Randolph L. Marten. “We successfully grew our average number of truckload and dedicated tractors by 384 tractors, or 16.5%, year-over-year, and paid off our Dec. 31, 2015 debt balance of $37.9 million during the quarter.”

 Update adds Marten Transport earnings.

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