Intermodal Surge Lifts J.B. Hunt Transport

Intermodal Surge Lifts J.B. Hunt Transport

Rising intermodal volume and truckload improvements boosted revenue 17 percent at J.B. Hunt Transport Services, backing claims of a first-quarter freight recovery.

J.B. Hunt’s first quarter revenue of $845 million was spurred in part by a 21 percent year-over-year increase in intermodal load volume, J.B. Hunt announced yesterday.

The company reported a net profit of $37.5 million for the quarter, an 18 percent increase from the $30.8 million profit it earned in the first quarter of 2009.

“The freight recession we have experienced for over three years showed signs of yielding to moderate volume improvements throughout the current quarter,” said Kirk Thompson, president and CEO. “While the pace of the broader macro economic recovery may be debatable, our current quarter results reflect a positive trend in the freight economy.”

The company handled 243,120 intermodal shipments in the quarter, compared with 200,232 a year ago. Its revenue per load declined 1.4 percent to $1,928, thanks in part to lower pricing built into contracts signed last year and higher equipment costs.

Intermodal demand rose highest in its eastern network, where it was up 26 percent, bolstered by shortages of truck capacity. Transcontinental demand was up 20 percent.

And conversion of over-the-road freight to intermodal rail continued, J.B. Hunt said.

J.B. Hunt’s Truck division rolled back into the black, reporting a $600,000 operating profit compared with a $5.8 million loss a year ago and a $1.3 million loss in the fourth quarter. Firmer demand helped improve truck utilization 20 percent year-over-year.

“We made significant strides as overall business demand strengthened, which allowed selectivity among available loads, higher spot prices and encouraging trends in new contract pricing,” Thompson said in a statement.

As diesel prices climbed, higher fuel surcharges kicked in, raising revenue levels. Truck revenue rose 11 percent with fuel surcharges, but 4 percent when they are excluded.

The company also shrank its truck division fleet 9 percent, as truckload capacity tightened. J.B. Hunt reported “scarce” capacity and robust demand in the Midwest.

The carrier’s dedicated contract carriage and logistics units also reported increase revenue, though operating income dropped 72 percent from a year ago at the logistics, or Integrated Capacity Solutions, division, thanks to decreases in contract pricing.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com