Iowa-based Heartland Express reported decreased earnings and income during the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the year-ago period, a reflection that freight demand is still soft and rates continue to be under pressure.
Heartland Express took delivery of 449 new tractors in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Heartland Express took delivery of 449 new tractors in the fourth quarter of 2009.

For the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2009, the truckload carrier posted net income of $10.7 million, a 44.8 percent drop from the 2008 quarter's $19.4 million. Earnings were at 12 cents a share for the quarter, down 40 percent from the year-ago quarter, when earnings were 20 cents a share.

The carrier saw its operating revenue fall 19.6 percent to $114.2 million from $142.0 million in the fourth quarter of 2008. The company attributes the drop to economic conditions, pricing pressures, and an $8.7 million reduction in fuel surcharge revenues.

Despite the results, Heartland's balance sheet is debt-free.

In the fourth quarter, the company brought in 449 new tractors, totaling 1,600 new International ProStars for the year.

"The past year presented the company, as well as our industry and nation, with many challenges which will continue into 2010," Heartland said in a press release. "The company has taken these many challenges as opportunities to improve efficiencies and cost controls, and the company moves forward into 2010 well positioned to take advantage as the economy improves with a fleet of new tractors, a continued focus on customer service, and a renewed focus on cost management."

According to analysts at Stifel Nicolaus, Heartland's balance sheet is solid, with cash and investment balances of $200.4 million. In addition, the analysts recommended investors Hold on their common shares for the company. However, Stifel Nicolaus did drop earnings per share estimates for 2010 and 2011 from 73 cents and 85 cents to 64 cents and 75 cents, respectively.