Thursday, December 28, 2006

U.S. trucking industry's November decline was biggest year-to-year drop in almost six years

In a potentially worrisome sign for the U.S. economy, domestic trucking shipments declined by almost 9 percent in November, marking the largest year-over-year decrease in almost six years, the industry's largest trade association said.
The American Trucking Associations said in a monthly report released late Wednesday that its seasonally adjusted truck tonnage index stands at its lowest level since late 2003, following an 8.8 percent decline versus the same month a year ago. The index fell 3.6 percent from the prior month.

Because more than two-thirds of all manufactured and retail goods in the U.S. are carried by truck, the industry is considered an important economic bellwether.
“Both the month-to-month and year-over-year decreases indicate that the economic slowdown is in full gear,” Bob Costello, the association's chief economist, said in a statement. “One month certainly doesn't make a trend, but if we continue to see year-over-year reductions of similar magnitudes in the next couple of months, it could indicate a greater economic slowdown than economists are projecting at this point.”

Costello cautioned that year-over-year comparisons might be skewed by the “very robust volumes” the industry saw during the same period a year ago.

The Alexandria, Va.-based trucking group said its tonnage index stood at 106.8 in November. The index, which stood at 100 in 2000, measures the weight of freight hauled by U.S. truckers, based on surveys from its membership.

Trucking companies have seen their fuel costs surge in the past few years, though they have been able to pass most of those extra expenses through to customers.

On the Nasdaq Stock Market, shares of JB Hunt Transport Services declined 13 cents to $21.05, near the middle of its 52-week trading range. Shares of Swift Transportation Company Inc. fell 15 cents to $26.56, also in the middle of its 52-week trading range.

On the New York Stock Exchange, shares of YRC Worldwide Inc. – the company created by the merger of Yellow and Roadway – gained 27 cents to $38.38, near the lower end of its 52-week trading range.