F.A.S.T. Fundamentals On CSX Corporation (CSX) by FastGraphs

  • CSX has performed exceptionally well over the past decade.
  • The “usual suspect” metrics like P/E ratios, dividend yield and expected earnings growth indicate that the company might be a reasonable investment.
  • This article takes a “behind the scenes” view of a variety of additional fundamental data.

Based in Jacksonville, Florida, CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX) has roots dating back to the early nineteenth century – starting in 1827 when the nation’s first common carrier was chartered between the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company.  Today 30,000 plus employees are responsible for 21,000 route miles in 23 states with access to over 70 ocean, river and lake port terminals. Railroads remain as the low cost transportation option where no waterway connects the origin and destination of shipments.

As such, you might imagine that as economies grow, requiring more shipping both domestically and internationally, the need for CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX) is substantiated. In fact, CSX has not only been sustaining itself but more readily growing.

For instance, as described by Morningstar analyst Keith Schoonmaker, here’s how that message looks in words:

“CSX’s competitive advantages are inseparable from the geography of its track. Its Eastern U.S. network stretches a bit farther in latitude than that of competitor Norfolk Southern, reaching into Florida and New England. The location of all its assets enables CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX) to attract a diverse mix of commodities. CSX made meteoric progress in its operations during the past decade, improving safety, shortening terminal dwell time, and increasing on-time arrivals. In almost every measure of operating performance, CSX moved the needle significantly.”

By utilizing F.A.S.T. Graphs™ here’s how that looks in a picture:

CSX Corporation

It is true that the company had one down year, yet it seems the “impossible to replicate” assets and “nearly impenetrable barrier to entry” helps not only protect but also drive CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX)’s profits – which grew by over 17% per annum since the end of 2004. As such, an investor would have seen returns of over 18% per year during this time.

CSX Corporation

Ordinarily we might dig a bit deeper into this side of the analysis by looking at the price and earnings correlation, why the performance results came out as they did along with the estimated returns looking forward. However, for this article we would like to focus on some of the fundamental underlying numbers, or “FUN,” aspects of this company as well. In doing so, we will see one of the most important concepts in reviewing a company: the total business results and the per share results are not necessarily the same thing.

A case in point comes in the way of looking at common equity (ce) or book value. Below we see that from the end of 2005 until 2013 CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX) was able to grow total common equity from about $8 billion to $10.5 billion in 2013 – a compound rate of about 3.5%. However, notice that in 4 of the 8 years there was a decrease in book value and generally the growth wasn’t very consistent.

CSX Corporation

Conversely, when we view the common equity per share (ceps) figures below, we see a much more consistent and positive rate of growth. Per share book value jumped from about $6 a share to over $10 a share for a compound rate of about 6.5%. Moreover, there were just 2 negative years, and even then the book value only decreased by 1% annually.

CSX Corporation

So what’s the underlying cause of this discrepancy? Quite simply, CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX) began an effective share repurchase program. Below we can see that common shares outstanding (csho) went from about 1.3 billion at the end of 2005 to just over 1 billion by 2013 – a 3% yearly reduction. Said differently, the reason why per share book value was largely consistent and growing was due to a solid buyback plan.

CSX Corporation

Perhaps just as interesting is the idea that this has only been the case as of late. If we look further back in history – back to 1994 for instance – we see that common shares outstanding actually increased in some years and remained in the 1.25 to 1.3 billion share range for a long time. So in the future this might be something to monitor: will CSX continue its strong repurchase program or will share count remain constant? If it’s the former an investor (possible given that CSX is presently in the middle of a $1 billion share repurchase program) might see per share growth outstrip total company growth in all metrics.

CSX Corporation

Beyond repurchasing shares, paying a dividend is likely the most well-known way to return cash to shareholders. To this point CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX) has shown a strong propensity to do so by not only paying but also increasing its dividend for the last 10 consecutive years. With shares currently yielding about 2.1%, it’s prudent to include this expected cash flow in your expected return assumptions. So if you’re going to count on this cash component, you might want to check in on its sustainability.

Below we have included a per share graph dating back to the end of 2005. Here we see cash flow per share (cflps) as the top light blue line along with capital expenditures per share (capxps) and dividends paid per share (dvpps). Note that cash flow and capital expenditures are somewhat inconsistent while dividends are much more reliable. Additionally, notice that cash flow was able to cover the combination of the capital expenditure and dividend obligations in every year. Moving forward, you might note that the dividend is well-covered but there could be a reason that the payout ratio remains somewhat subdued: railroads require large capital expenditures, a nuisance with regard to payouts and yet a blessing in respect a competitive advantage.

CSX Corporation

Thus, the cash flows of the business should be continuously monitored.  In addition to the sustainability of a business’s obligations, you might also be interested in the returns generated on behalf of your capital. Below we see a depiction of CSX Corporation (NYSE:CSX)’s return on equity (roe) and return on invested capital (roic) over the past 8 years. Notice that both have been increasing slightly – with ROE hovering around 20% and ROIC at about 11%.

CSX Corporation

This concept follows through with the company’s margins. Again, note the steady improvement as time has gone on. Gross profit margin (gpm) has increased from about 30% in 2006 to about 38% last year. Likewise, net profit margin (npm) has improved moving from under 14% to over 15%.

CSX Corporation

These metrics – increasing returns and improved margins – are even more impressive when coupled with growing sales. As indicated below, sales have been largely consistent since 2004 with just 1 down year in the

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