Wabtec anticipates volume recovery later this year

A photograph of a locomotive on railroad track. The track is in the middle of an empty field.

Rail equipment and locomotive manufacturer Wabtec (NYSE: WAB) expects some North American rail volumes to recover later this month and toward the end of the year, based on the conversations the company has had with customers.

Volumes look to be “bottoming” at the end of April and early May, said Wabtec President and CEO Rafael Santana during the company’s first-quarter earnings call on Monday. Wabtec also has most of its 160-plus manufacturing facilities operational at some capacity, although some will reopen in the next 10 days or so as facilities comply with government-mandated lockdowns and grapple with supply chain and operational disruptions.

The company also was “confident” that its order backlog would help Wabtec weather the economic uncertainty. Executives said Wabtec was seeing “continued commitment” from customers’ efforts to modernize their locomotive fleets both domestically and internationally as companies seek to improve efficiency, as well as seeing some interest in Wabtec’s digital business.

Wabtec’s total, multiyear backlog was worth $21.5 billion as of March 31, and its 12-month backlog was $5.6 billion, slightly lower than at Dec. 31, 2019, the company said. There could be some shifts in deliveries for long-term orders, but actual delivery times are based on several factors, including Wabtec’s ability to send orders and customers’ abilities to receive orders, executives said. There is also some potential for deferred maintenance in the second quarter, they said.

Over the next several years, both Wabtec’s freight and transit services could benefit from the post-pandemic landscape, as safe social distancing efforts might drive demand for more passenger trains, while potential nearshoring opportunities in North America, as well as end markets’ desire for reliability, could benefit freight rail operations, Santana said.

In a release earlier Monday, Wabtec said it would seek to reduce costs and manage its financial assets amid the pandemic-induced economy uncertainty. Among the measures it is seeking to take are to reduce its operational footprint by an additional 9% in 2020, lowering fixed costs including selling, general and administrative expenses, and reducing capital expenditures by 40%.

“We are taking swift and prudent actions to reduce cost, manage cash and maintain our strong liquidity position. Even with the uncertain environment, we are committed to delivering on our synergy plans and aligning production capacity to prevailing demand conditions,” Santana said. “Additionally, we are taking actions to reduce working capital and to cut non-essential capital spending.”

First-quarter results

Wabtec noted the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted operations and the supply chain in India, China and Europe.

“Wabtec operations (most notably in China, India, and parts of Europe) were partially or fully impacted due to government issued lockdowns to protect against the spread of the virus,” Wabtec said. “In accordance with (and in addition to) guidance from both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wabtec has taken significant proactive measures to protect the health and safety of employees, including temperature screenings, enhanced social distancing, expanded work from home protocols, the implementation of deep cleaning and sanitization efforts, and the distribution of additional personal protective equipment (PPE) where needed.”

The company reported a net profit of $111.2 million, or 58 cents per diluted share, in the first quarter of 2020, versus a loss of $4 million, or 4 cents per diluted share, in the first quarter of 2019.

Wabtec saw higher revenues in the first quarter, with total sales of $1.9 billion compared with $1.6 billion for the same period in 2019. The company attributed the increase to sales from acquisitions, mainly of GE Transportation, which were partially offset by lower sales in Wabtec’s freight components and equipment segment and transit segment, as well as by unfavorable exchange rates.

Of that total revenue, freight segment sales of $1.3 billion rose 42% from $386 million a year ago. Wabtec attributed the increase to sales from acquisitions of $506 million, partially offset by an organic decrease of $108 million and unfavorable changes in foreign currency exchange rates of $13 million. Wabtec experienced lower organic sales in equipment and components, which was partially offset by growth in digital electronics and services.

Transit segment sales of $629 million fell 7% from a year ago as acquisitions of $3 million were not enough to offset an organic sales decline of $34 million and unfavorable changes in foreign currency exchange rates of $18 million. Transit segment sales were negatively impacted by COVID-19 disruption on operations and supply chain. Wabtec said.

Operating expenses were $361.4 million, compared with $321.7 million in the first quarter of 2019.

Adjusted non-GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) results were $185.9 million, or 97 cents per adjusted diluted share, in the first quarter of 2020, versus $159.9 million, or $1.21 per adjusted diluted share, in the first quarter of 2019. The adjusted figures stem from Wabtec’s merger with GE Transportation last spring. The GAAP results reflect GE’s contribution.