A record-setting fourth quarter for trucking company Forward Air Corp. has it looking forward to a banner 2016, while Rush Enterprises is cost-cutting to compensate for the low truck sales in the energy sector in 2015.

Net income at Forward Air Corp. (NASDAQ:FWRD) improved to $23.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2015, up from $17 million a year earlier. That's diluted earnings per share of 75 cents, compared to 55 cents in the 2014 quarter.

Adjusted earnings for the quarter were 76 cents, a little more than 20% higher than expectations of 63 cents per share from Zacks Investment Research.

Operating revenue for the quarter increased 19.8% to $256.4 million. Income from operations was $29 million, compared with $25.6 million for the fourth quarter of 2014, an increase of 13.3%.

For all of 2015, net income fell to $55.6 million from $61.2 million in 2014, for diluted earnings per share of $1.78 last year compared to $1.96 a year earlier.

Operating revenue for the year increased 22.8% to $959.1 million from $781 million 2014, while income from operations was $81.8 million, down from $96.4 million in 2014..

Revenues, income from operations and income per diluted share for the fourth quarter were company records. Revenue for all of 2015 was also a new high, according to the Tennessee-based operation.

“Overall we were very pleased with our performance in the fourth quarter, and more importantly feel confident we have advantageously positioned the company for superior results in 2016,” said Bruce Campbell, chairman, president and CEO. “We expect to continue benefiting from pricing changes, cost cutting and operational efficiencies implemented in the third quarter of 2015.

"Additionally, we are now benefiting from our Feb. 1 change to our dimensional weight factor. This change targets less dense, more difficult to handle freight that is therefore more costly. The impact of this change will be an increase in billed tonnage with little or no increase in cost.”

In the company’s Forward Air segment, which provides time-definite surface transportation and related logistics services to the North American expedited ground freight market, fourth quarter operating revenue increased 26% from a year earlier to $206.4 million. For the entire year it jumped 29.5% to $792.8 million. The segment also includes Central States Trucking Co. and Central States Logistics Inc. (CST).

“CST, which is our final mile intermodal service offering, finished the year with $104.3 million in revenue, $12.3 million in operating income and an 88.2 operating ratio,” Campbell said. “We continue to see good organic intermodal growth and since acquiring CST in early 2014 we have made three additional tuck in acquisitions. With good legacy volumes and a robust deal pipeline we continue to view CST as a growth platform.”

Its Forward Air Solutions segment, which provides pool distribution services in part of the U.S., saw revenue increase 6.7% in the fourth quarter to $43 million. For the full year, $130 million in revenue was 3.8% higher than 2014.

Total Quality (TQI), which provides primarily truckload security and temperature-controlled logistics services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, plus truckload and less-than-truckload brokerage services, recorded a 24.8% drop in fourth quarter revenue, totaling $9.1 million. The decline for all of last year was less severe, 13.1%, totaling $42.2 million

“After absorbing new business start-up costs, Forward Air Solutions performed as expected in the fourth quarter,” Campbell said. “TQI continued to struggle in the fourth quarter but we are starting to see improvements driven by recently implemented initiatives.”

More details are on the Forward Air website.

Rush 2015 Revenue Hits $5 Billion Mark

Rush Enterprises (NASDAQ:RUSHA and RUSHB), one of the largest commercial vehicle dealer networks in North America, was affected by fewer sales of energy-related Class 8 trucks last year.

Fourth quarter revenues totaled $1.2 billion, down from $1.3 billion a year earlier. Net income for the quarter was $9.8 million, 24 cents per diluted share, compared to $24.6 million, or 60 cents per diluted share in the 2014 period. Adjusted earnings were 33 cents per share, 10 cents less than an consensus estimate from Zacks Investment Research

For the year, the Texas-based company achieved revenue of $5 billion and net income of $66.1 million, or $1.61 per diluted share, compared with revenue of $4.7 billion and net income of $80 million, or $1.96 per diluted share for 2014.

"We were able to offset lost revenues from declining energy-related Class 8 truck sales with lower-margin truck sales to large fleets throughout 2015," said W.M. "Rusty" Rush, chairman, CEO and president. "This lower margin business, combined with declining demand for aftermarket services from the energy sector and a significant decline in used truck values in the fourth quarter, had a negative impact on net income and earnings.

"To help offset this decline in business we are implementing broad and significant expense reductions. However, as in past years, the cost of employee benefits and payroll taxes will negatively impact expenses in the first quarter of 2016."

Despite the challenges last year, Rush said the company continued its long-term growth strategy, expanding its network to 21 states with acquisitions in Georgia, Illinois and Nevada. It also increased service capacity through the expansion of existing facilities in California and Tennessee and construction of new facilities in Ohio and Texas.

“In the area of aftermarket solutions, we substantially completed the rollout of our RushCare Rapid Parts call centers and introduced our new Momentum Fuel Technologies compressed natural gas fuel system and a new telematics offering,” he said. “We also implemented an advanced service management system throughout our network that will lead to real-time and transparent communications for customers with vehicles in our service shops.”

In 2015, Rush Class 8 retail sales accounted for 6.7% of the total U.S. Class 8 market, compared to 7.1% in 2014. The dealer group sold 16,874 Class 8 trucks last year, an increase of 7% over 2014.

In the fourth quarter, new Class 8 sales were down about 28% compared to the fourth quarter of 2014.

The company is predicting lower sales of Class 8 trucks for the industry this year than what has been forecast by commercial vehicle analysts ACT Research. ACT predicts 222,000 Class 8 sales this year, a 12.2% decrease from 2015 retail sales. Rush said his company believes the numbers "could be significantly less" than that forecast, "given the decreasing freight trends, increased capacity as a result of 2015 being the best truck sales year since 2006, lower used truck values and ongoing slowness in the energy sector."

Rush’s U.S. Class 4-7 medium-duty truck sales reached 11,241 units in 2015, up 13% over 2014, outpacing the industry’s Class 4-7 new truck sales, which were up 8.3% in 2015. Rush’s medium-duty new truck sales accounted for 5.2% of the total U.S. Class 4-7 market.

ACT Research forecasts U.S. retail sales for Class 4-7 vehicles to reach 218,350 units in 2016, a 0.1% increase over 2015, with Rush saying he believes the sector will remain stable through this year.

Aftermarket services accounted for 64.1% of Rush total gross profits in 2015, with parts, service and body shop revenues reaching $1.4 billion, up 5.1% over 2014. However, the company said it began in October to see a negative affect in parts and service revenues because of decreased activity in the energy sector.

Rush Truck Leasing operations increased revenues by 12.6% in 2015 compared to 2014 Including newly acquired franchises, Rush Truck Leasing now operates 72 Paclease and Idealease franchises in markets across the country.

More information is on the Rush Enterprises website.

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