The fuel-based Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index rose 0.7 percent in February after falling 1.7 percent in January from December, pointing to an improvement in trucking but also a fragile economic recovery.
“The continuing weakness of the PCI is signaling that, perhaps, the recovery in home building has not yet taken hold,” said Ed Leamer, chief economist for the PCI and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.
“If we get the saws and hammers going again, we will have a real recovery with much healthier job growth,” and trucking activity, the UCLA economist said. “It has been said that it takes 17 truckloads to build a home.”
February’s 0.7 percent increase was the largest month-to-month improvement in the PCI since October, when the index, based on diesel purchases by truckers who use Ceridian fuel cards, rose 1.1 percent.
The index is based on millions of individual fuel purchases by more than 25,000 customers, both trucking and distribution companies, a sample size that Ceridian says is “statistically valid” for economic analysis.
However, other recent indicators have shown stronger economic improvement than the PCI. U.S. retail sales were up 1.1 percent in February from the previous month and 6.5 percent from a year ago.
Building suppliers saw a 13.8 percent jump in sales from January as home improvement retailers enjoyed earlier-than-usual sales of lawn furniture and landscaping supplies because of unseasonably warm weather.
The American Trucking Association’s For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index, for example, rose 6.4 percent in December, when the PCI rose 0.2 percent, but dropped 4 percent in January, when the PCI fell 1.7 percent.
“I’m not surprised that tonnage fell on a seasonally adjusted basis in January simply due to the fact that December was so strong,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said when the tonnage data was released.
Year-over-year, the ATA truck tonnage index was up 3.6 percent in January, while the fuel card-based PCI dropped 2.2 percent. In February, the PCI declined 0.2 percent year-over-year, according to Ceridian.