The stock market has been running strong in 2019, with the S&P 500 up 16% year to date. One issue that investors should keep in mind is how the transportation sector is doing as a whole. It makes sense if you think about it: if goods and people aren’t being shuffled around the country and the planet, then it probably means the economy is not strong. The transportation sector, tracked by the iShares Transportation Average ETF (NYSEARCA: IYT), has seen an 18% gain year to date.
Three earnings reports were driving shares higher on Wednesday. All came in above estimates, and they are in the top half of the transportation sector exchange-traded fund. Consensus estimates are from Refinitiv.
CSX Corp. (NYSE: CSX) led the transportation stocks higher, and it dominates with a $65 billion market cap. CSX reported that revenues rose during the quarter, with merchandise shipment growth also coming with the benefit of higher shipping prices and lower operating costs. CSX earned $1.02 per share on income of $834 million, up from $0.78 per share ($695 million) in the same quarter a year earlier. Revenues rose to $3.02 billion, while expenses were down 2%. The consensus estimates were last seen at $0.91 in earnings per share and $3.01 billion in revenues. Investors are keying on three phrases here: merchandise volume growth, broad-based price gains and continued efficiency gains.
CSX shares were up 5% at $79.72, in a 52-week range of $57.97 to $80.51 and with a consensus price target of $77.57. The stock is up 22% so far in 2019.
Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSU) traded higher after the rail operator showed that its profits actually fell by almost 30% with an emphasis on lower carload volumes as the company faced service interruptions during the quarter. While the report sounded lower, the $1.54 per share on $674.8 million in revenue reported was ahead of the consensus estimates of $1.44 per share and $672.6 million. Kansas City Southern said that its chemical and petroleum revenue rose by 21%, with industrial and consumer product revenues up 2% and agriculture and mineral revenues up 8%.
Kansas City Southern shares were up 2.4% at $120.87, in a 52-week range of $90.55 to $122.46. The consensus analyst target is $125.88, and shares were last seen up over 23% so far in 2019.
United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) leads off the airline reports by showing that its profit effective doubled to $292 million (or $1.09 per share, up from $145 million or $0.51 per share). Its comparable earnings came in at $1.15 per share, and the consensus estimate was just $0.95 per share. United Continental has seen limited fallout from the 737 MAX groundings, and the company has been carrying more passengers at a faster rate than its expenses.
United Continental shares were up 3.4% at $88.10. The 52-week range is $65.45 to $97.85, and the consensus price target is $102.41. The stock is up only about 2% year to date.
Despite a mid-morning stock market sell-off, these shares are up enough that the iShares Transportation Average ETF was up 0.9% at $196.48. That key transportation ETF has a 52-week range of $155.24 to $209.43. The iShares website showed that the fund had $584 million in assets and that United Continental and Kansas City Southern were both in its top 10 holdings. CSX’s weighting was down at number 12 of the 22 holdings that make up the full ETF portfolio.