JANUARY 29, 2015 — Houston-headquartered tank barge operator Kirby Corporation (NYSE: KEX) yesterday announced record net earnings for the quarter ended December 31, 2014 of $68.1 million, or $1.19 per share, compared with $64.3 million, or $1.13 per share, for the 2013 fourth quarter. Consolidated revenues for the quarter increased 18% to $668.3 million compared with $568.4 million reported for the 2013 fourth quarter.
The average estimates of analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research had been for earnings of $1.17 per share and revenue of $576.6 million.
"We reported record results for the fourth quarter and the year with earnings per share at the upper end of the revised, lower guidance range provided in mid-December of last year," said Kirby President and CEO David Grzebinski. "We reported record results for the fourth quarter and the year with earnings per share at the upper end of the revised, lower guidance range provided in mid-December of last year. In the fourth quarter, utilization in both our marine transportation markets remained in the 90% to 95% range with good price increases in our offshore transportation market, but some signs of spot pricing weakness in the inland market. Also, as we stated when we issued our revised guidance, in our land-based diesel engine services business, the sudden and steep drop in oil prices led to some customer cancellations and delays of projects. However, our marine diesel engine services business experienced stable demand in the fourth quarter."
Marine transportation revenues for the 2014 fourth quarter were $429.4 million compared with $434.6 million for the 2013 fourth quarter. Operating income for the 2014 fourth quarter was $104.2 million compared with $107.8 million for the 2013 fourth quarter. The decline in fourth quarter revenue in 2014, as compared with 2013, was mainly driven by a 13% decline in the average price of marine diesel fuel which is passed through to our customers.Inland marine transportation tank barge utilization remained in the 90% to 95% range in the fourth quarter. Pricing on renewing contracts experienced only modest increases and were under pressure late in the fourth quarter. In addition, high winds and heavy fog during the quarter drove a year over year increase in delay days in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Operating conditions throughout the Mississippi River system were seasonally normal.
The coastal marine transportation markets reflected normal seasonal impacts and continued strong utilization in the 90% to 95% range, consistent with the first nine months of 2014 and above the 90% level experienced throughout 2013. Demand for the coastal transportation of refined products, black oil, including crude oil and condensate, and petrochemicals remained at healthy levels, leading to continued favorable term and spot contract pricing.
The marine transportation segment's 2014 fourth quarter operating margin was 24.3% compared with 24.8% for the fourth quarter of 2013.
Diesel Engine Services
Fourth quarter diesel engine services revenues were $238.9 million compared with $133.8 million for the 2013 fourth quarter. Operating income for the fourth quarter of 2014 was $12.9 million compared with operating income of $4.7 million for the 2013 fourth quarter.
The higher revenues and operating income as compared to the fourth quarter of 2013 reflected improvement in the land-based diesel engine services market and steady demand for parts sales and services in the marine diesel engine and power generation markets. The land-based market benefited primarily from an improvement in the sale, service and remanufacturing of engines, transmissions and pressure pumping units. However, the decline in oil prices resulted in backlog cancellations and order delays late in the quarter.
During the 2014 fourth quarter, demand in the marine diesel engine services market remained stable, benefiting from major service projects along the Gulf Coast and East Coast. The power generation market benefited from major generator set upgrades and parts sales for both domestic and international power generation customers.
The diesel engine services operating margin was 5.4% for the 2014 fourth quarter compared with 3.5% for the 2013 fourth quarter.
Commenting on the 2015 first quarter and full year market outlook and guidance, Mr. Grzebinski said, "Our earnings guidance for the 2015 first quarter is $1.05 to $1.15 per share compared with $1.09 per share in the 2014 first quarter. Our full year 2015 guidance is $4.50 to $4.70 per share compared with $4.93 per share earned in 2014. In our marine transportation markets, the sharp decline in energy prices has caused the inland market to lose some confidence, resulting in carriers not pressing rates and shippers testing rate levels. Given some potential pricing weakness, we are being cautious with our 2015 pricing expectations. For the coastal business, our guidance assumes continued healthy utilization levels and mid-single digit price increases. In our diesel engine services segment, the significant decline in crude prices has created a high degree of uncertainty but we remain focused on servicing our customers, executing the backlog we have, and on cost reductions."Mr. Grzebinski continued, "For our marine transportation business, the longer term fundamentals which support continued growth in petrochemical and refined products volumes, particularly the globally competitive feedstock advantage for domestic producers, remain intact. However, the majority of the expected benefits from new petrochemical plant openings are not likely to occur until 2017 and later. If, prior to these benefits emerging, market disruptions present acquisition or other good investment opportunities we will look to use our strong balance sheet and strong cash flow in a disciplined manner. During the fourth quarter of 2014 and the first part of 2015, we repurchased $100 million or 1,263,947 shares of Kirby stock. With respect to cash flow, while our 2015 earnings guidance is lower than 2014, we expect our cash flow to remain strong, as our 2015 guidance includes an increase of approximately $0.15 per share in expenses related to pension discount rate and mortality table changes, as well as an increase in other non-cash expenses."
Kirby's 2015 capital spending guidance range is $300 to $310 million and includes approximately $75 million for the construction of 39 inland tank barges and three inland towboats, all expected to be delivered in 2015. The guidance range also includes approximately $85 million in progress payments on the construction of two 185,000 barrel coastal ATBs and two 155,000 barrel ATBs. The balance of $140 to $150 million is primarily for capital upgrades and improvements to existing inland and coastal marine equipment and facilities, as well as diesel engine services facilities.