LTL Trucking Grew 11.6 Percent in 2011

LTL Trucking Grew 11.6 Percent in 2011

The less-than-truckload transportation industry grew 11.6 percent in 2011, pushing total U.S. LTL revenue past $30 billion for the first time since the recession.

Total LTL trucking revenue in the U.S. rose from $27.5 billion in 2010 to $30.6 billion last year, according to a study by SJ Consulting Group in Pittsburgh.

LTL companies in 2011 reorganized networks as rising freight demand reduced excess capacity, creating opportunities for higher pricing and yield.

Last year’s growth was the LTL industry’s strongest since 2005, when a 9.9 percent increase in sales took LTL carriers to the top of the economic cycle preceding the recession.

But the global economic crisis left a deep imprint on LTL carriers, costing them $8.1 billion in revenue in 2009 out of $33.3 billion in total revenue in 2008.

The LTL industry is still recovering. Although total LTL revenue increased 21.7 percent over the past two years, it’s still 8 percent lower than in 2008.

The SJ Consulting study, which ranks the top 25 LTL carriers by revenue, showed the recovery gaining momentum last year, with all 25 carriers reporting revenue gains. (The study ranks carriers by LTL revenue alone, excluding revenue from non-LTL sources, such as truckload carriage and third-party logistics, where possible.)

The top 25 trucking companies account for 90 percent of the revenue in the heavily concentrated LTL trucking industry, hauling in $27.6 billion in 2011.

LTL revenue among the carriers last year ranged from $4.7 billion at FedEx Freight to $137 million at Wilson Trucking, according to the SJ Consulting study. Those 25 large carriers increased revenue 12 percent last year over 2010, the study said. The remaining smaller carriers increased sales 8 percent last year.

For the first time since the recession, all the carriers on the list reported revenue growth in 2011, though not all were profitable. In most cases, growth accelerated.

Growth rates among the top 25 ranged from 5.6 to 25.7 percent in 2011. In 2009, every carrier on the SJ Consulting list shrank by at least 10 percent.

Old Dominion Freight Line reported the strongest growth in 2011, increasing LTL revenue 25.7 percent and moving up to fifth on the list. YRC Freight, the long-haul arm of YRC Worldwide, reversed years of revenue decline and reported an 11.6 percent spurt in LTL sales to $3.2 billion, the study said.

The top 25 LTL carriers report will be available to members in the March 19 issue of The Journal of Commerce and on www.joc.com. Last year’s report is available here. 

 Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wbcassidy_joc.