CN reported its financial and operating results for the fourth quarter and year ended Dec. 31, 2009.Net income for full-year 2009 decreased two per cent from 2008 to C$1,854 million, with diluted earnings per share declining one per cent to C$3.92. The 2009 results included after-tax gains of C$194 million (C$0.41 per diluted share) from two line-sales; a deferred income tax recovery of C$157 million (C$0.33 per diluted share), mainly resulting from the enactment of lower provincial corporate income tax rates; and after-tax acquisition-related costs of C$30 million (C$0.06 per diluted share) related to CN’s purchase of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Company. Excluding these items, adjusted 2009 net income was C$1,533 million (C$3.24 per diluted share), compared with adjusted 2008 net income, excluding a deferred income tax recovery, of C$1,778 million, or C$3.71 per diluted share.

Claude Mongeau, president and chief executive officer, said: “CN overcame a number of challenges during the fourth quarter, ranging from weather and operational disruptions in Western Canada to a five-day strike by locomotive engineers in Canada. In addition, the stronger Canadian dollar adversely affected our earnings. Despite these challenges, the final quarter of 2009 saw continued sequential improvement in CN’s traffic levels and an easing in year-over-year volume comparisons. Carloadings were flat year-over-year, but up four per cent versus the third quarter of 2009.”

Fourth-quarter year-over-year growth was in coal, automotive, grain and fertilizers, and petroleum and chemicals volumes as the economic recovery began taking hold. Intermodal volumes declined three per cent, metals and mineral carloadings were down by two per cent, and forest products markets remain depressed.

Mongeau said: “Throughout the year, the CN team raised the bar on operational execution, tightly controlled costs, and generated solid free cash flow and increased shareholder value through the monetization of underutilized assets. As we go forward, we will build on the improvements in operating metrics we achieved in 2009, including train velocity, lower freight car dwell times in terminals, and improved locomotive fuel efficiency.”

Foreign currency impact on results
The fluctuation of the Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. dollar, which affects the conversion of CN’s U.S.-dollar-denominated revenues and expenses, reduced fourth-quarter 2009 net income by approximately C$35 million (C$0.07 per diluted share), while increasing full-year 2009 net income by C$25 million (C$0.05 per diluted share).

Mongeau said: “CN believes there will be gradual economic recovery in 2010. A number of our markets appear to be improving, and we expect to take advantage of a number of opportunities this year. We are still facing some headwinds, but are aiming for double-digit growth in diluted earnings per share (EPS) in 2010 over adjusted diluted EPS of C$3.24 in 2009, with 2010 free cash flow in the order of C$700 million.”(1)

One of the headwinds CN will face in 2010 is the Canadian-U.S. dollar exchange rate, which averaged C$0.88 in 2009 but is expected to be substantially higher in 2010. In addition, CN anticipates increased expenses in 2010, including higher depreciation expense and substantially lower credits for casualty expense.

Mongeau added: “Given the anticipated economic recovery, CN’s strong balance sheet and its ability to produce solid cash flow, I’m pleased that the Company’s Board of Directors has approved a seven per cent increase in CN’s quarterly common-share dividend, and a new share repurchase program to buy-back up to 15 million CN common shares.”

Fourth-quarter 2009 revenues and expenses
The 14 per cent decline in fourth-quarter revenues largely resulted from the negative translation impact of the year-over-year stronger Canadian dollar on U.S.-dollar-denominated revenues; a reduction in the fuel surcharge resulting from year-over-year decreases in applicable fuel prices, and lower freight volumes