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Brooke Sutherland

A Railroad’s Slashed Outlook Sends a Foreboding Message

A company with a front-row view of the economy isn’t so sanguine on growth, and that’s troublesome.

Warning lights. 

Warning lights. 

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Add CSX Corp.’s earnings to the list of ominous signs for the economy. The East Coast railroad reported second-quarter results late Tuesday that missed analysts’ estimates. CSX said it now expects revenue to decline as much as 2% in 2019, compared with an earlier outlook for a low single-digit gain.

At the beginning of the year, when recession worries were at a fever pitch, CSX CEO Jim Foote brushed off the consternation as an overreaction because “when you get a real recession, the volumes drop off really fast – that’s not happening.” On Tuesday, he acknowledged the "slow drift" down on demand but argued the economy wasn't facing a "gloom and doom" scenario. It depends on your definition of doom, I suppose, but there was more gloom than sunshine in CSX's earnings report.