Heartland posts lower 4Q, full-year profit

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Heartland Express Inc. on Wednesday, Jan. 27, announced financial results for the quarter and year ended Dec. 31, 2009.

For the fourth quarter, net income decreased 44.8 percent to $10.7 million from $19.4 million. Operating revenues decreased 19.6 percent to $114.2 million from $142.0 million. Operating revenues for the fourth quarter continued to be impacted by lower freight demand due to overall economic conditions and the related pressure on freight rates. In addition, operating revenues decreased because of an $8.7 million reduction in fuel surcharge revenues. Operating income was affected negatively due to decreased gains on disposal of property and equipment and increased depreciation expense attributable to the purchase of new tractors during the quarter.

For the year, operating revenues decreased 26.5 percent to $459.5 from $625.6 million. Net income decreased 18.6 percent to $56.9 million from $70.0 million. Operating revenues were affected negatively by a decrease in fuel surcharge revenues of $77.5 million due to lower average fuel prices in 2009 compared to 2008. Operating income was affected negatively due to increased gains on disposal of property and equipment offset by increased depreciation expense attributable to the purchase of new tractors during the year.

The North Liberty, Iowa-based company said freight demand in the fourth quarter continued to be soft, but that based on the current economic environment, it believes freight volumes have stabilized but is unable at this time to project when it would expect freight volumes to improve. The company said it ended the fourth quarter with cash, cash equivalents, short-term and long-term investments of $200.4 million, a $27.6 million decrease from the $228.0 million reported on Dec. 31, 2008. The reduction is primarily attributable to the use of $45.4 million in early 2009 for repurchases of stock and $79.1 million for capital expenditures, primarily new tractors. Heartland took delivery of 449 new tractors in the fourth quarter of 2009 for a total of 1,600 new International Pro Star tractors during the year, completing the company’s 2009 fleet upgrade.

The company said that since the first auction failures of its auction rate securities in February 2008, it has received $47.8 million in calls, at par, including $27.0 million received in 2009 and $2.3 million received in January 2010. The company said it ended the year with $153.0 million, at par, in illiquid auction rate securities and that it continues to be involved in efforts to bring liquidity to its auction rate securities portfolio. The company said its balance sheet continues to be debt-free.