The fuel-based Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index rose for the third straight month in December, climbing 0.2 percent following a 0.1 percent increase in November and a 1.1 percent jump in October.
That growth is not fast enough to support forecasts of GDP growth as high as 3 percent, Ceridian and UCLA said.
However, the monthly PCI index does indicate trucking’s peak shipping season peaked October but lasted through December, perhaps propelled late into the holiday shopping season by exceptionally lean retail store inventories. That coincides with anecdotal reports from truckers of strong December demand.
The slow acceleration of the PCI, based on diesel purchases by truckers who use Ceridian’s fuel cards, indicates GDP grew 2 percent or less in the fourth quarter, said Ed Leamer, chief economist for the PCI and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast. However, it also may indicate inventories are contributing less to GDP, he said.
Trucking executives and analysts have pinpointed leaner inventory management by shippers as a factor in increased truck tonnage early in the fourth quarter. Higher than expected retail sales and rapid replenishment kept trucks moving.
“With real retail sales growing more rapidly than the PCI over the last two quarters, however, the first half of 2012 may be an inventory-rebuilding period, allowing inventories to make a substantial contribution to GDP growth,” said Leamer.