Which of Canada’s Big 2 Rail Companies Is the Better Buy Today?

Does Canadian National Railway Company (TSX:CNR)(NYSE:CNI) or Canadian Pacific Railway Limited (TSX:CP)(NYSE:CP) represent the better long-term buy today?

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Canadian National Railway Company (TSX:CNR)(NYSE:CNI) and Canadian Pacific Railway Limited (TSX:CP)(NYSE:CP) are the two largest rail-network operators in Canada, and both of their stocks represent very attractive long-term investment opportunities today.

However, in order to keep our portfolios diversified, we must only choose one, so let’s take a closer look at each company’s earnings results in fiscal 2015, their stocks’ valuations, and their dividends to determine which is the better buy now.

Canadian National Railway Company

Canadian National is the largest rail network operator in Canada. Its stock has fallen over 12% in the last year and about 1% year-to-date, including a rally of more than 7% since it released its earnings results after the market closed on January 26 for its fiscal year ended on December 31, 2015. Here’s a summary of 10 of the most notable statistics from fiscal 2015 compared with fiscal 2014:

  1. Adjusted net income increased 15.7% to a record $3.58 billion
  2. Adjusted diluted earnings per share increased 18.1% to a record $4.44
  3. Total revenues increased 3.9% to $12.61 billion
  4. Total carloads decreased 2.5% to 5.49 million
  5. Total rail freight revenue per carload increased 6.6% to $2,170
  6. Operating income increased 13.9% to $5.27 billion
  7. Operating ratio improved 370 basis points to 58.2%
  8. Net cash provided by operating activities increased 17.3% to $5.14 billion
  9. Free cash flow increased 6.9% to a record $2.37 billion
  10. Repurchased 23.3 million shares for a total cost of approximately $1.75 billion

At today’s levels, Canadian National’s stock trades at 17.2 times fiscal 2015’s adjusted earnings per share of $4.44, 16.3 times fiscal 2016’s estimated earnings per share of $4.69, and 15.2 times fiscal 2017’s estimated earnings per share of $5.06, all of which are inexpensive compared with its five-year average price-to-earnings multiple of 17.6 and the industry average multiple of 17.9.

In addition, Canadian National pays a dividend of $0.375 per share quarterly, or $1.50 per share annually, which gives its stock a yield of about 2%. Investors must also note that the company has raised its annual dividend payment for 19 consecutive years, and its 20% hike on January 26 puts it on pace for 2016 to mark the 20th consecutive year with an increase.

Canadian Pacific Railway Limited

Canadian Pacific is the second-largest rail network operator in Canada. Its stock has fallen about 27% in the last year and over 3% year-to-date, including a rally of more than 13% since it released its earnings results on the morning of January 21 for its fiscal year ended on December 31, 2015. Here’s a summary of 10 of the most notable statistics from fiscal 2015 compared with fiscal 2014:

  1. Adjusted net income increased 9.6% to a record $1.63 billion
  2. Adjusted earnings per share increased 18.8% to a record $10.10
  3. Total revenues increased 1.4% to a record $6.71 billion
  4. Total carloads transported decreased 2.1% to 2.63 million
  5. Total rail freight revenue per carload increased 3.5% to $2,493
  6. Adjusted operating income increased 12.2% to $2.62 billion
  7. Adjusted operating ratio improved 370 basis points to a record 61%
  8. Cash provided by operating activities increased 15.8% to $2.46 billion
  9. Free cash flow increased 59.3% to a record $1.16 billion
  10. Repurchased 13.55 million shares for a total cost of approximately $2.75 billion

At today’s levels, Canadian Pacific’s stock trades at 17 times fiscal 2015’s adjusted earnings per share of $10.10, 15.3 times fiscal 2016’s estimated earnings per share of $11.25, and 13.5 times fiscal 2017’s estimated earnings per share of $12.76, all of which are inexpensive compared with its five-year average price-to-earnings multiple of 26.9 and the industry average multiple of 17.9.

In addition, Canadian Pacific pays a dividend of $0.35 per share quarterly, or $1.40 per share annually, which gives its stock a yield of about 0.8%. Investors should also note that it has maintained this annual rate since 2013.

Which is the better long-term buy today?

Here’s how each company ranks when directly comparing their earnings results, their stocks’ valuations, and their dividends:

Metric Canadian National Canadian Pacific
Earnings Strength 1 2
Current Valuation 2 1
Forward Valuations 2 1
Dividend Yield 1 2
Dividend Growth 1 2
Average Ranking 1.4 1.6

As the chart above depicts, Canadian Pacific’s stock trades at more attractive current and forward valuations, but Canadian National reported stronger earnings results in fiscal 2015, has a higher dividend yield, and has an impressive streak of annual dividend increases, giving it the edge in this match up.

With all of this being said, I think both stocks represents great long-term investment opportunities today, so Foolish investors should strongly consider beginning to scale in to positions in one of them over the next couple of trading sessions.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. We’re Motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.

Fool contributor Joseph Solitro has no position in any stocks mentioned. David Gardner owns shares of Canadian National Railway. The Motley Fool owns shares of Canadian National Railway. Canadian National Railway is a recommendation of Stock Advisor Canada.

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