US Railroads Show Untapped Value from Delay in Building Oil Pipeline

From Reuters

US railroads are obvious winners from the latest delay in the Keystone XL Pipeline approval, and some of the freight operators with the biggest growth in petroleum shipments look undervalued, according to an analysis of Thomson Reuters data.

While shares in some railroad companies have recently hit record highs, there may be still more upside potential. CSX Corp and Norfolk Southern Corp are both trading 15 percent or more below their warranted share price, according to a measure of “intrinsic valuation” tracked by Thomson Reuters StarMine.

The Obama administration’s decision to extend indefinitely the review process for the controversial oil pipeline connecting Canada with the U.S. Gulf Coast effectively cements the view that U.S. freight rail haulers are here to stay as big players in the oil-shipping business.

“Users have realized rail is a great diversification in terms of delivery of crude to the refineries, regardless of whether Keystone goes ahead or not,” said Walter Spracklin, equity research analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto. “If Keystone doesn’t go ahead, it hammers home the point.”

Petroleum product volumes by freight rail rose by more than 28 percent in 2013 to 1.54 million carloads, according to data from Cowen & Co and RailShare, and oil-by-rail is by far the freight rail industry’s fastest-growing segment. So far this year, traffic is running 10 percent ahead of last year at this time.

The biggest player in the sector is Burlington Northern Santa Fe, a unit of Warren Buffett’s insurance and industrial conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc , which accounts for roughly a third of U.S. oil-by-rail traffic.

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