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Oct 19, 2018

CP Rail CEO downplays impact of U.S.-China trade battle

What drove CP Rail's record quarter


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CALGARY -- Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. is downplaying the potential negative impact on its operations from a trade war between the United States and China.

China accounts for 12 per cent of North American revenues, with direct business between the world's two largest economies coming in at less than five per cent, analysts were told during a conference call Thursday about its third-quarter results.

"We're just a business that's getting tossed around a bit with this China connection being overemphasized in the marketplace," said chief executive Keith Creel.

Chief marketing officer John Brooks said trade tensions and the imposition of hefty import tariffs by both sides have prompted international customers to start to pull forward some of their business.

The impact is mainly felt from some Vancouver imports and U.S. grain exports from the Midwest.

"But outside of that, we're pretty resilient in that space. And again, it's a total percentage, it's not giant numbers," Brooks said.

Creel said the Calgary-based company aims to ramp up crude shipments over the next few months to a run rate of about 100,000 carloads a year as it looks to generate higher profits after posting record revenues and adjusted earnings in the third quarter.

CP Rail earned $622 million or $4.35 per diluted share for the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with $510 million or 3.50 per share for the same period a year earlier.

Adjusted earnings rose to $589 million or a record $4.12 per diluted share, two cents better than it forecast earlier this month. The earnings marked a 42 per cent leap from $2.90 per share or $422 million a year earlier, beating the expectations of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters Eikon.

The quarter showed the success of the railway's operating model, stated CEO Keith Creel.

"It was a record by almost every measure and sets us up well for the remainder of the year and beyond."

Third-quarter revenues grew 19 per cent to $1.9 billion from $1.6 billion.

It was led by a 58 per cent growth in currency-adjusted revenues for energy, chemicals and plastics.

Creel stressed "crude was a large contributor to this growth," with more than 23,000 carloads moved in the quarter, but added that the category shot up 23 per cent even before factoring in crude.

Adjusted revenues also grew 24 per cent higher in potash, 20 per cent in automotive, 18 per cent in intermodal, 12 per cent in forest products, seven per cent grain, five per cent metals, minerals, consumer, four per cent coal and two per cent fertilizers and sulphur.

Brooks acknowledged that wet weather and an early winter in the Prairies could potentially hurt shipments.

But crops such as canola are "pretty resilient, as long as they'e not beaten down to the ground."

The company reported a record-low quarterly operating ratio, which measures its efficiency, of 58.3 per cent, compared with 61 per cent a year earlier.

Creel said the railway foresees continued and sustainable growth across all lines of business.

"We have the foundational underpinnings, and the room to grow, in the weeks, months and years ahead," he said in a news release.

CP Rail said it expects adjusted diluted earnings per share to grow more than 20 per cent this year, up from an earlier guidance of low double-digit growth.

Edward Jones analyst Dan Sherman recommended investors buy stock in the 137-year-old company, but cautioned that "trade disagreements with U.S. export partners may also affect the volume of shipments."