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BNSF Q4 coal revenues, volumes decline on lower electricity demand

Highlights

Railroad reported 368,000 coal carloads in Q4

Q4 coal revenue per unit at $1,894, down 9% on year

Houston — BNSF Railway has reported a decrease in coal volumes and revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020, primarily due to lower natural gas prices and lower electricity demand driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad reported Q4 coal volumes of 368,000 carloads, up from 360,000 carloads in the prior quarter, but lower than the 464,000 carloads reported in the year-ago quarter, according to its fourth-quarter earnings report filed March 1 with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. It was the lowest coal volumes in a fourth quarter in over 12 years.

BNSF also said utility coal plant retirements and mild temperatures led to the decrease in volumes.

In 2020, coal volumes totaled 1.4 million, down from 1.8 million in 2019.

Of the total 2.61 million carloads reported in Q4, coal volumes represented 14.1%, down from 14.8% in Q3 and 18.3% in the year-ago quarter.

In the fourth quarter, coal revenues totaled $697 million, up from $651 million in Q3, but down from $967 million in the year-ago quarter. Total coal revenues in 2020 were $2.66 billion, down from $3.72 billion a year ago.

Coal's average revenue per unit totaled $1,894/car in Q4, down 9% from $2,084/car in the year-ago quarter. However, the latest quarterly RPU increased from $1,808/car in the prior quarter.

BNSF's average coal RPU was at $1,891/car in 2020, down from $2,062/car in 2019.

BNSF reported total operating Q4 revenues of $5.67 billion, down 3% year on year, while total RPU was at $2,065, down 6% from a year ago. Net income rose to $1.49 billion, up 5% from the year-ago quarter.

The company's annual revenues were at $20.87 billion, while net income was at $5.16 billion in 2020, down 11% and 6%, respectively, from 2019 totals.

The railroad, which is privately held by investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway holding company, transports the most coal in the US, primarily from the Powder River Basin.