Rite of Passage for any Business Reporter?

...the first quarterly earnings story! Mine is about trucks and trains.

For those unaware, I recently moved to Fayetteville, AR to start a job covering transportation for the business desk of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Needless to say, it's been a bit different than Southeast Asia. However, this paper has proven a great, stable place to start out a career as a business reporter, full of smart people willing to answer my many questions.

(Don't think I'm a total fish out of water though; NW Arkansas has a solid contingent of Lao and Thai immigrants. There's even a Hmong food truck!)

While I know you are all about to sign up for an ADG subscription, here's a preview:

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J.B. Hunt's earnings up 1.5%

Net income of 92¢ per share misses analysts’ average by 5¢

By Emma N. Hurt

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

This article was published 07/19/16 at 5:45 a.m.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. reported Monday its second-quarter net income was up from last year, but for the second year in a row, the company missed analysts' earnings predictions for the period.

A net income of $105 million, or 92 cents per share, was a 1.5 percent increase for the Lowell-based company, from $103.4 million or 88 cents per share, for the same quarter of 2015. The company posted $1.62 billion in revenue, up about 5 percent from last year's $1.54 billion.

The average of 25 analysts polled by Yahoo Finance had predicted 97 cents per share for the second quarter. Revenue matched the average of 19 analysts' estimates.

The company lowered its expected earnings for 2016 to 7 percent, from a previous 9-12 percent projection, citing higher rail costs and "customer rate behavior." Shares dropped more than 4.5 percent in trading on the Nasdaq exchange Monday, after the release.

"I think basically the messaging is the pricing environment has become more competitive. Specifically there are probably customers pushing back on pricing because there are other transportation options. The greatest competition is coming from other trucking companies," explained Brad Delco, a transportation analyst for Stephens Inc. in Little Rock.

J.B. Hunt's intermodal revenue increased by 3 percent, from $904.9 million in 2015 to $933 million this year, rebounding to close to its 2014 levels of $930.7 million. The company explained that last year's issues with West Coast ports have continued to be mitigated, pointing to continued load growth in both its eastern and transcontinental networks.

J.B. Hunt is the largest intermodal truckload carrier in the United States, meaning shipping of freight containers using multiple modes of transportation.

The intermodal segment's operating income was down 11 percent to $105.6 million from $118.6 million in 2015, reportedly due to rail purchased transportation, equipment costs, insurance and claims, and driver recruiting and retention. Intermodal operating income now represents 60 percent of the company's total, down from 68 percent in 2015.

"Usually rail is a cheaper mode of shipping than truck, but because of a loose capacity in the trucking market, pricing has gone down so much that it is encroaching upon some of the intermodal demands," Delco said. In addition, rail companies have raised their prices to make up for a decline in coal output, traditionally a significant portion of rail freight.

J.B. Hunt's trucking division maintained about the same revenue as the previous year, posting a 1 percent increase with the total remaining around $98 million. Its operating income decreased by 9 percent to $8.9 million, due to "lower rates per loaded mile, increased driver hiring costs, higher independent contractor cost and increased tractor maintenance costs." The division also spent about $700,000 on streamlining and technology redevelopment.

The company's brokerage segment posted the most striking increase in revenue and operating income. Revenue was up 17 percent to $204 million, in part due to a 62 percent volume increase offset by lower fuel prices and change in freight mix.

Lower fuel costs have both hurt and helped the company. Its fuel-surcharge revenue accounts for less than 10 percent of its total revenue and fell 27 percent to $131.7 million. However, its fuel expenses decreased 16 percent to about $71.5 million.

The brokerage division's operating income increased 122 percent to $10.9 million, following last year's promise that the $4.4 million cost of streamlining and technology redevelopment in the second quarter of 2015 would pay off over the following two years.

Business on 07/19/2016

Print Headline: J.B. Hunt's earnings up 1.5%