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Trucking Industry Shows Modest Gains During Tumultuous Third Quarter

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The third quarter of 2013 ended much like the rest of the year for the trucking industry, with basically flat earnings and a gain of just 2.8 percent overall. The new hours of service regulations did have an impact on earnings, but not all the carriers reported exactly how much. Werner reported the regulations reduced the average miles traveled by each truck by two to three percent. Swift mentioned the hours of service regulations in the report, but did not quantify the effects.

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The for hire tonnage freight tonnage index, reported by the American Trucking Associations, reached record highs during quarter three. They had 1.4 percent tonnage growth for both August and September. Cass Information Systems’ Freight Volume Index showed October as a depressed month for shipping, down by 3.5 percent following a rise in September. Part of the reason the two reports show such a discrepancy might be because dry load van volumes are generally slower to grow than overall tonnage. Much of the new freight now is crude oil being shipped from fracking facilities to refineries.

J. B. Hunt, Heartland, and Marten all showed strong growth for quarter three. Most of the mid size carriers were profitable, but their profits were down significantly. The most growth in the trucking industry is in carriers’ value added services. These include intermodal, brokerage, and dedicated routes as added services. The new hours of service regulations, expected to have an impact of tens of millions of dollars across the industry each year, seem to have caused an impact in the low single digits.

The holiday season should have a positive impact on trucking companies’ earnings for the fourth quarter of 2013, though it is still unclear if the industry will make a significant gain over 2012 numbers. [/show_to]

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