OMAHA, Neb. — Norfolk Southern's fourth-quarter profit improved slightly even though it hauled 1% less freight because the railroad controlled expenses tightly as the economy continued to slowly recover from last year's widespread shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Norfolk, Virginia-based company said it earned $671 million, or $2.64 per share, during the fourth quarter. That was up 1% from the previous year when it reported $666 million profit, or $2.55 per share.
The results topped Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $2.48 per share.
The railroad said revenue declined 4% to $2.57 billion in the period as volume slipped, which also beat Street forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $2.56 billion.
Norfolk Southern said it hauled fewer shipments than last year even though the economy has improved significantly since the worst of the business shutdowns. During last year's second quarter, the railroad's volume plunged 26% as most automotive plants and many other manufacturers closed temporarily to help limit the spread of the virus.
Norfolk Southern said it cut expenses 8% during the quarter to $1.6 billion as it continued to work to improve efficiency. The railroad is in the midst of reforming its operations to run on a tighter schedule and move more freight with fewer people.
For the year, the company said its profit fell 13% to $2.01 billion, or $7.84 per share, over the previous year's adjusted results. Revenue was reported as $9.79 billion.
Norfolk Southern shares have climbed slightly since the beginning of the year, while the S&P 500 index has risen 2.5%. The stock has climbed 17% in the last 12 months.
Norfolk Southern operates about 19,500 miles (31382.21 kilometers) of track in 22 eastern states and the District of Columbia