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Jan 27, 2021

'Good reason to be optimistic about 2021': CN Rail CEO

Especially optimistic about the second half of 2021: CN Rail CEO

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The head of Canada’s largest railway says the company expects a positive second half of 2021, pinning his hopes to fewer COVID-19 cases and the nation’s prospects for economic recovery.

“We want to see what happens in the first quarter and… what’s going to be happening with COVID and vaccinations in the weeks and months to come,” Canadian National Railway Co. Chief Executive Officer, Jean-Jacques Ruest said in an interview on Wednesday. “But with all the effort our government is putting together, that has to be able to get itself sorted out by the time we get to the later part of the year.”

Ruest said CN’s core business performance in December and January was strong with room to grow in consumer consumption and demand for commodities like lumber, grain and propane.

CN posted a 17-per-cent jump in its fourth-quarter profits on Tuesday, which it said were driven by a shift in pandemic-era consumer trends and high demand for lumber for housing.

However, Ruest called crude-by-rail a “question mark” for CN’s outlook as global energy demand remains low amid decreased travel. U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline further complicated Canadian energy companies’ ability to move product.

“The pipeline was not going to be ready for a couple of years, so I think the positive impact on us might be curious down the line,” Ruest said, calling crude-by-rail a “slight positive bump on the rail industry.”

Ruest said he was unsurprised by the pipeline’s cancellation, though, since it had been a Biden campaign promise. He added that he was in favour of Keystone XL.

“I think what’s good for Alberta, is good for Canada, is good for CN in generating GDP for the country.”