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Submitted By cm00026
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Stuff for SWOT on CSX ^Avg. age of rail worker source^ The Bureau of Labor Statistics ^coal production and volumes source^ Daniel Ferry * Coal is the most important commodity to the U.S. railroad industry, but U.S. coal production has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years. * Coal reached its peak in 2008, but it still made up more than 40% of tonnage and more than 20% of revenue in 2012. * Rock-bottom natural gas prices have made coal a less economically competitive power source, while environmental regulations have upped compliance costs for coal plants and made the prospect of new coal-fired plants unlikely. As a result, Class I railroads' coal shipments have fallen 18% by tonnage since 2008. They're likely to fall lower still. * That's not all bad news. While coal is big business for railroads, it's not very profitable. Measured by revenue per ton-mile, a metric that takes both weight and distance into account, coal is by far the least lucrative commodity that railroads ship, bringing in an average of just 2.88 cents per ton-mile in 2011, compared with a commodity average of 5.78 cents, more than double coal. Moving coal is certainly high-volume for the railroad stocks, but it's not high-margin. * CSX, which has most of its trackage in the Eastern United States and is therefore heavily exposed to Appalachian coal shipments, was downgraded on Friday (10/4) by Citigroup, on concerns that coal volumes would be even lower than expected. While I'm not usually one to lend credence to big bank upgrades or downgrades, CSX is particularly vulnerable to coal shipments, which accounted for more than 30% of revenue in 2011, declining to 27% in 2012. Railroads highly exposed to Appalachian coal will find it most difficult to rebuild their businesses in a world of terminally declining coal. * With a uniquely comprehensive track geography that hits the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico, Canadian National derives the lion's share of its revenue from such evergreen shipments as intermodal containers, agricultural products, and chemicals, with only 7% of revenue coming from coal, the lowest in the business. The rail industry is changing, and as it confronts lower coal volumes, investors should strongly consider the companies best positioned to adjust to that decline. To that end, Canadian National is a name every investor should keep in mind when weighing their options in this industry. * Sources of strength for the railroads were widespread and varied, with railroads reporting strong growth in intermodal cargo, automobiles, industrial materials and consumer goods, all signs of a broadly growing economic base. Railroads also benefited from dramatically increased shipments of crude oil, chemicals, and fracking sand made possible by the same shale energy boom that's hurt coal volumes. * The party kicked off with the East Coast's largest railroad, when CSX announced an earnings beat thanks largely to intermodal carloads and fracking-related shipments more than making up for declining coal. * * CSX kicks off earnings season for North America's Class I freight railroads, and its ability to improve financial performance in the face of a large drop in coal shipment revenue bodes well not just for CSX, but for its peers as well.

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