The condition of the trucking business generally depends on whom you ask. But the one thing most people can probably agree on is that the best of the recent good times are now in the past.
Results from overland transportation company J.B. Hunt
In the trucking business, net revenue increased by only 1% and the operating ratio (the trucking industry's version of operating margin) worsened slightly from the year-ago level. This was despite an increase of 4.6% in the industry's proxy for pricing, rate yield, and a 6.9% increase in revenue per load. Although management acknowledged that demand had slowed, it said that it doesn't see significant new industry capacity in the form of more trucks on the road. What's more, it suggested that independent contractors are being hurt even worse by high oil prices and driver pay. If the independent contractors are struggling, that means they're not going to be adding many new trucks to the road (and the banks won't give them financing to do so).
Should that all prove true, it would suggest that the bottom isn't going to fall out of the trucking industry any time soon. It may be the sort of situation where the market is shaky enough to push out the weak players; once they disappear, though, the cargo they carried still needs to be shipped. The same amount of cargo, more or less, should be divided among fewer surviving truckers.
More positively, dedicated contract service revenue (essentially third-party logistics) climbed 7%, and operating income was up 52%. Further, the company's intermodal business did quite well with revenue up 17% and operating income up 21%. Given the ongoing strength in the railroad business, management seemed cautiously optimistic that intermodal services would continue to enjoy strong demand for the near future.
I can't say that J.B. Hunt is my favorite transportation idea. It's not a bad company at all, but there other players I like better -- Old Dominion
Still, this company does boast very respectable returns on assets and equity, and it's one of the largest players in the game. Should it manage to live up to analysts' growth expectations, this stock could yet haul some reasonable gains for its investors.
A fresh shipment of trucking-related Foolishness:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).