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Marten, Heartland stock prices get boost after strong quarters

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Tightened capacity seen as a spur to both Heartland and Marten beating estimates, with optimism from analysts going forward

The earnings reports of truckload carriers Heartland Express and Marten Transport released on Thursday, July 16 continued to resonate with investors a day later, with the stock prices of both companies recording significant gains. 

At approximately 11:50 a.m. EDT, Marten had risen $2.47 per share to $29.43, a gain of 9.16%. It has traded Friday in excess of $30. 

While its earnings report did not exceed forecasts as much as those of Heartland, Marten did split its stock 3-for-2 while maintaining its dividend at $0.04 per share, which is effectively a 50% increase in the yield. 

Meanwhile at the same time, Heartland had risen $1.01 per share to $22.36, a gain of 4.73%. That came after a July 16 performance following the morning release of its earnings in which the stock rose 4.7% from Wednesday to $21.35. (Marten’s earnings were released after the close.)

The beat on earnings and revenue for both companies was considerable. At Heartland, GAAP basis earnings per share of $0,24 were $0.10 more than what SeekingAlpha said was the consensus. Revenue of $160.87 million was $8.48 million more than consensus. A report from UBA analyst Thomas Wadewitz described the outperformance as “meaningful.”

At Marten, the earning report of $0,33 per share was also $0.10 more than forecast. Revenue of $212.38 million was $7 million above consensus. 

Neither Marten nor Heartland are companies that are widely covered by Wall Street equity analysts. But Todd Fowler of KeyBanc covers both and remains bullish. However, he did not change his investment recommendation on either, which already was at Overweight.

What comes through his summary of both company’s earnings is the bullishness of the freight market and the tightness in capacity. 

“Freight activity improved sequentially during the quarter with strength in late May and June more than compensating for a particularly soft April,” Fowler wrote in discussing Heartland. “The resumption of Chinese import activity as well as the resumption of economic activity combined to produce a strong recovery in demand during the quarter with some implications from capacity reduction industry side.”

Late quarter strength continues this month

Fowler, who discussed the earnings with Heartland management after they were released (Heartland does not do an earnings call) reiterated what the company said in its earnings statement: the market has continued strong into July. “July to date, trends have persisted with turndown elevated seasonally,” Fowler wrote. “Most bid activity is complete. However, sustained tightness may create yield opportunity in 2h 2020.”

Chris Strain, Heartland’s CFO, told FreightWaves in a telephone interview that capacity has “definitely tightened up.” 

Prior to the pandemic, Strain said, “we were all talking about the back half of 2020 being better.” 

“We were in that camp so we’re starting to see that,” he added, though he noted that is only through two weeks of observation. 

Talking about the recently completed quarter, Strain said April was “terrible.” The rest of the quarter got “progressively better” and that trend has continued into July.

Wadewitz at UBS also spoke with Heartland management about capacity. “On the supply side, HTLD believes there has been some downsizing of fleets and carrier bankruptcies which have contributed to the recent tightness in the truckload market,” he wrote. 

Heartland has always had one of the leading operating ratios (OR) in the industry. While the company beat expectations on revenue and net income in the quarter, its OR slipped significantly during the quarter. Its non-GAAP adjusted OR was 83%, compared to 76.6% a year ago.

But what Heartland came in with was well above estimates. For example, Wadewitz’ forecast was that Heartland would have an OR of 88.4.

The OR has weakened in part by the acquisition last year of Mills Transfer. UBS said the OR of the legacy Mills business is in the low 90s. 

“The integration of Mills remains on track with favorable revenue retention and ongoing opportunities to more closely align costs with legacy Heartland operations,” KeyBanc’s Fowler wrote, while also acknowledging the low-90 OR at Mills. 

KeyBanc also saw the Heartland OR as being better than projected. Net of fuel and gains from sales of equipment, Fowler said the quarter’s OR was 85.2%, better than the estimate of 89.9%. But a year ago, the OR net of fuel and gains was 82.7%.

Fowler increased the price target for Heartland to $26 from $24. As for Marten, Fowler raised the price target for Marten by $2 to $31. 

Positive outlook at Marten

In his report, Fowler wrote that his discussions with Marten management after the earnings release “indicated sequential improvement through the quarter…with utilization benefiting from the ability to deploy assets in areas or with accounts where demand was strong,  more than offsetting customer shutdowns.”

Although rates are increasing throughout the industry generally, Fowler wrote about Marten that “rates remain pressured with revenue/truck balanced by favorable utilization.”

The KeyBanc report stated further, “Overall, we view current quarter results as meaningfully stronger from an operational perspective, demonstrating margin potential in an improved freight environment.” 

Marten’s consolidated operating ratio, built through the four segments – truckload, dedicated, intermodal and brokerage – was 88.1% in the second quarter, a significant improvement of 250 basis points from the second quarter of last year. In increasing its target price, KeyBanc and Fowler said it assumes a 90.4% OR for the company in this year, a slight improvement from 90.9% last year. (Marten’s 6-month OR so far this year is 90%.) Fowler sees an OR of 90% in 2021. 

“Overall, results are supportive of our expectation for gradual operational improvements and an improved margin profile intermediately, combined with modest organic growth,” he wrote.

The two divisions at Marten that had tough quarters were brokerage and intermodal. Fowler said a brokerage revenue decline of about 21% was in line with its forecasts. But intermodal revenue rising 6% was below the model that showed an 11% gain. A volume increase for Marten’s intermodal business of 3% was below a projection of 10%, with a slightly higher revenue per load gain of 3% compared to KeyBanc’s projection of 1%.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.