Norfolk Southern Earnings Call NUGGETS: Export Steam Coal, Auto Market Encouraging

On Tuesday, Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE:NSC) reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Export Steam Coal

Jason Seidl – Dahlman Rose: A couple of quick questions. One on the coal front, you talked about some new export steam coal. Could you give us a little more color about that and remind us when the start is and about how much in terms of tons it added to the quarter?

A Closer Look: Norfolk Earnings Cheat Sheet>>

Donald W. Seale – EVP and Chief Marketing Officer: This is Don. We handled right at 2.5 million tons of steam coal in the quarter. To kind of give you the color of this in the first quarter, we only handled 9% of our export steam and it ramped up to 30% export steam coal in the second quarter sequentially.

Jason Seidl – Dahlman Rose: I guess, I’ll stick on coal a little bit here. You talked about how – you had a couple customers that were taking train sets and then you saw stockpiles decline. I mean is it still going to be a challenging 3Q, I assume for coal based on some of your commentary, but sequentially can you give us some flavor on what you’re expecting for sequential utility coal outlook compared to 2Q?

Donald W. Seale – EVP and Chief Marketing Officer: Well, certainly it’s going to be a challenge in the second half. Stockpiles are still above target as I mentioned. It is encouraging that we’re seeing natural gas back to3/11, 3/12. If the hot weather continues I think we will see that rate, probably continue to go up for gas as demand continues to go up for utility generation. So, in all, it’s really based on the weather for the rest of the summer and the shoulder months that we’re going to see in September, October as to whether or not utility coal really starts to move late in the fourth quarter, mid fourth quarter, or it gets geared up for early 2013.

Auto Market Encouraging

Justin Yagerman – Deutsche Bank: Thinking about your coal franchise, your East Coast competitor is talking a bit about utility coal in the East having moved from base load to surge and their mix of utility served is quite a bit different than yours, and I’d love to get your take on how you see the next couple of years playing out in terms of the shifts that we’ve seen this year and how that’s going to translate in your opinion on a go forward basis. So, I guess to rephrase, is the East now completely surged from a coal power generation standpoint or do you still feel like the majority of the utilities you guys serve are base load coal?

Donald W. Seale – EVP and Chief Marketing Officer: We see strongly that our coal utility generation is base load. It’s certainly not surge capacity. In that regard, with the heat that we’ve had from starting the second week of June, up through the current period, we’re seeing all of our coal fired utility plants run as base load and we’re being advised by our customers in that regard.

Justin Yagerman – Deutsche Bank: Then I guess the second question I want to ask you guys, on the auto side, obviously that’s been one of the bright points in the U.S. economy in the first half of this year. You stated the case of the old fleet on the road, which is something that we’ve heard quite often, but more specifically, when you talk to your customers and you look at the plans on your line, how do you see the back half of the year shaking out from an auto standpoint, what kind of volume growth are you guys budgeting as you think about that, and is there any – are there any cracks in that armor that you guys are seeing at this point in time that would lead you to believe if there’s any risk in that?

Donald W. Seale – EVP and Chief Marketing Officer: At this point in time, with the run rate on the sales of about $14.1 million and total production approximating $15 million, we think the second half is poised for good growth in the automotive market. If housing continues to move up marginal way, which it is right now, we’re even seeing some increased demand for utility trucks and pickup trucks associated with that sector. So, it’s encouraging. We certainly don’t see a significant leap in housing, but it’s encouraging to see it move from an annual rate of about 650,000 to about 760,000. The reason I’m mentioning housing, it does have a positive support for some of the automotive business and it has significant demand in the aged vehicles.

Justin Yagerman – Deutsche Bank: That’s an interesting connection.