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CSX pulls financial forecasts as profit and U.S. railroad volumes fall

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – U.S. railroad operator CSX Corp <CSX.O> on Wednesday withdrew its financial forecasts and said it was evaluating future spending as business shutdowns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic weigh on the U.S. economy.

The company, considered one of the most efficient U.S. railroads, also said profit fell less than expected in the latest quarter as cost controls helped offset revenue declines from shipments of products like coal, automobiles and fertilizer.

First-quarter net income declined almost 9% to $770 million, or $1.00 per share. Analysts expected a 94-cent per-share profit for the quarter, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Revenue for the first quarter fell 5% to $2.86 billion.

Lockdowns due to the novel coronavirus are taking a toll on railroad volumes in the United States and Canada, Bernstein analyst David Vernon said in a client note.

“The U.S. is marginally worse off, with a material deceleration in merchandise traffic joining weaker trends in coal and intermodal. We do not expect that volumes will improve before the economy re-opens, and we have little clarity on when that will be,” Vernon wrote.

CSX operates mainly in the Eastern United States.

Last Friday, Kansas City Southern <KSU.N> – which operates in Mexico and in U.S. states along the Gulf of Mexico and into the Midwest – withdrew its full-year earnings forecast on coronavirus concerns. Its quarterly profit beat Wall Street estimates as higher Mexico shipments boosted sales in its chemicals and petroleum business.

Union Pacific Corp <UNP.N>, one of the largest U.S. railroads, reports on Thursday and analysts expect it to also pull its guidance.

Uncertainty over when factories and stores will reopen makes it very challenging for railroads to forecast with confidence, said Edward Jones analyst Jeff Windau.

“I can see how the rails are a little hesitant to throw out numbers,” Windau said.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Chris Reese, Peter Cooney and Tom Brown)