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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Mar. 25, 202105:00 AM EST

CSX is having a ‘pretty good recovery’

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CEO James Foote tells investor conference he’s optimistic but “it’s clearly not nirvana.”
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

After a difficult February, CSX Corp.’s business is recovering well in March, CEO James Foote said last week.

However, the situation isn’t perfect, Foote said at an investor conference sponsored by J.P. Morgan.

“The railroad, under the circumstances, is actually running pretty good,” he said. But, “it’s clearly not nirvana.”

Business was looking up in January after the 2020 pandemic-related slump but “February slammed us in the head,” Foote said, as rough weather affected the northern part of the company’s rail network.

Jacksonville-based CSX operates throughout the eastern half of the U.S.

“February was not a good month from a revenue and a cost standpoint,” with rising fuel prices increasing expenses, he said.

Despite the challenges, Foote remains optimistic.

“Overall, I think we’ve adapted. We’ve shown to the world  — not only CSX but the railroad industry — that we’re a lot more nimble and we’re able to adapt and able to work our way through just about anything they can throw at us,” he said.

Foote said 2021 has brought a “good, solid start, a big bump in the road, and a pretty good recovery right now into March.”

CSX calls Pan Am a ‘minor’ deal

In November, CSX Corp. announced its first railroad acquisition in more than two decades, but the company doesn’t want anyone to think it’s a big deal.

The company’s application with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to approve its purchase of Pan Am Railways Inc. said the deal should be considered a “minor” transaction.

The acquisition of Massachusetts-based Pan Am’s 1,800-mile rail network would expand the company’s operations in New England.

CSX said in a Surface Transportation Board filing last week the acquisition would be “an efficient, end-to-end extension of CSXT’s network into New England that raises no competitive issues.”

CSX said it had discussions with customers and communities affected by the deal before filing its application with the transportation board in February.

“CSX did not immediately file an application for STB approval of the transaction because CSX wanted to address any concerns about potential competitive effects before seeking STB authorization,” it said in last week’s follow-up filing.

The Surface Transportation Board has three classifications for mergers: major, significant and minor. 

If the Pan Am deal was deemed significant, it would add 75 more days to the regulatory process than if the deal is classified as minor, CSX said in last week’s filing.

Foote was not asked about the Pan Am deal or other railroad mergers at last week’s conference. The conference occurred before a major rail deal was announced March 21, a $29 billion merger of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Kansas City Southern.

Black Knight adds mortgage broker system

Black Knight Inc. said last week it acquired a cloud-based loan origination system for mortgage brokers from NexSpring Financial.

Jacksonville-based Black Knight already is the dominant company in technology for mortgage lenders, providing processing services for 64% of all U.S. first mortgage loans.

The addition of NexSpring’s system allows the company to expand its reach. In a news release, Black Knight CEO Anthony Jabbour said mortgage brokers “represent the fastest-growing origination channel in the industry.”

Terms of the deal were not announced.

International Baler sales rise

International Baler Corp. said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week that sales in its first quarter ended Jan. 31 rose 16.9% to $2.35 million.

The Jacksonville-based company said it sold more balers used for recycling and waste disposal in the quarter, and a 38.5% rise in parts and service sales also helped increase revenue.

International Baler had a loss from operations of $174,018 in the quarter. However, it recorded income of $626,466 from a Paycheck Protection Program loan that was forgiven.

Helped by that gain, the company had net income of $489,339, or 9 cents a share, in the quarter.

Patriot selling Tampa property

Patriot Transportation Holding Inc. said in an SEC filing last week it agreed to sell 25 acres of land in South Tampa for $9.5 million.

The Jacksonville-based trucking company said the land has been used for an operating terminal and it intends to relocate the facility to another site in the Tampa market.

Patriot said it expects to close the sale in the current fiscal year.

Shoe Carnival names new CEO

Shoe Carnival Inc. named a new chief executive last week to replace the retiring Cliff Sifford.

Mark Worden, the company’s president and chief customer officer, will become CEO on Sept. 30. 

Sifford will remain vice chairman of the board of the Evansville, Indiana-based footwear chain.

Former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is chairman and the largest shareholder of Shoe Carnival. He and his wife, Delores, control 29% of the company’s stock, according to a recent SEC filing.

Worden, 47, joined Shoe Carnival in 2018 as an executive vice president.

 “When Mark joined Shoe Carnival nearly three years ago, our objective was to bring onboard an executive officer who would be positioned to take over as CEO at the right time,” Sifford said in a news release.

Weaver said in the release he has “the utmost confidence in his ability to lead the Shoe Carnival team and deliver strong performance as we enter this new chapter.”

Shoe Carnival also announced it is raising its quarterly dividend by 5 cents a share to 14 cents.

Ashford hotel occupancy drops

Heading into Memorial Day weekend last May, executives of Ashford Hospitality Trust Inc. expressed optimism about a business rebound at its One Ocean Resort hotel in Atlantic Beach. 

They were hoping it was a sign of a post-pandemic comeback for the hotel industry.

However, the company’s annual report filed with the SEC last week showed how difficult 2020 was for its 103 hotels.

The 193-room One Ocean Resort’s occupancy for the full year was just 57.41%, down from 71.91% in 2019, the annual report said.

Ashford also owns a 120-room Marriott Residence Inn in Jacksonville that had 59.66% occupancy last year, down from 82.08% in 2019, and a 119-room Hilton Garden Inn that had just 43.65% occupancy, down from 73.55%.

The three Jacksonville-area properties did better than the rest of Ashford’s portfolio, as total occupancy was just 34.37% at all of its hotels, down from 76.35% the previous year.

Another publicly traded hotel owner last week reported similar data for its Jacksonville property.

Condor Hospitality Trust Inc. said its 120-room Jacksonville Courtyard by Marriott was 52.2% occupied in 2020.

American Outdoor beats forecasts

American Outdoor Brands Inc.’s stock jumped higher last week after reporting earnings well above analysts’ forecasts.

The outdoor gear company reported adjusted earnings of 82 cents a share for its third quarter ended Jan. 31, up from 13 cents the previous year and better than analysts’ consensus forecast of 36 cents, according to Nasdaq.

Sales jumped 91% to $82.6 million.

American Outdoor’s stock rose as much as $5.67 to $28.89 on March 18 after the report.

American Outdoor closed its Jacksonville warehouse two years ago and consolidated operations at its headquarters in Missouri.

The company operated the 100,625-square-foot facility at 7720 Philips Highway after acquiring a Jacksonville company called Ultimate Survival Technologies Inc. for $32.3 million in 2016.
 

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