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Focus: Transportation Management

Feature Article from Our Transportation Management Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

- Feb. 27, 2013 -


Logistics News: Q4 and Full 2012 LTL Carrier Results and Comments


Volumes were Soft, but Sector Finally Working Way out of Its Tough Financial Position; YRC has Full Year Operating Profit for First Time in Six Years

SCDigest Editorial Staff

SCDigest is pleased to offer as always our exclusive quarterly reviews of the results from public traded transportation carriers after their earnings reports are released, looking for both financial and logistics trends from those announcements.

SCDigest Says:

All five of the carriers lowered their operating ratios last year over 2011, lead by Old Dominion again.
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Last week, we reviewed the Q4 and full year 2012 results from the four major rail carriers. (See Q4 and Full 2012 Rail Carrier Results and Comments.)

The week before that, it was the major public truckload carriers (see Logistics News: Q4 Truckload Carrier Results and Comments).

This week, it's time for a look at our group of five major public less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers. As usual, we include both charts of the relevant numbers as well as a few interesting comments from management in their releases or analyst presentations.

In general, most in the LTL group, as with rail and truckload carriers, saw soft volumes in the quarter. Changes in q4 tonnage year over year ranged from -3.2% at YRC Worldwide to a 5.3% gain at - who else? - Old Dominion.

The big news for the quarter and the full year in the LTL sector is the continued financial recovery of YRC Worldwide, which although posting major losses, saw significant improvement in its operating performance nevertheless, after a deep financial crisis resulting from a multi-year acquisition binge that nearly took the company under in 2009 and 2010.


For the full year, YRC achieved positive operating income for the first time in six years, at $24.1 million.


For the first time in a long time, Old Dominion saw slow profit growth in the quarter, but the company said Hurricane Sandy and some bad weather generally were the root cause of the slow down. For the full year, Old Dominion grew its profits a very strong 21.5% over what had  been a solid 2011, on a tonnage gain of 7.5%.


Old Dominion had net income of 7.5% of its revenue; the next closest was Conway Freight, at just 2.7%.



Q4 2012 US LTL Carrier Results


Source: Supply Chain Digest


There were very few comments in the QA earnings releases relative to the rate environment, probably indicating a sharp slowdown in pricing power, with rates up 4-5% over the past several quarters. In Q4, some carriers characterized rates as flat, while others indicated rates were up 2% or so.

(Transportation Management Article Continued Below)


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Generally, results for the full year were similar, but some of that 2012 data is worth noting. Only Arkansas Best/ABF Freight had an operating ratio of over 100%, indicating continued improvement in the financial outlook for this historically beleaguered sector. All five of the carriers lowered their operating ratios last year over 2011, lead by Old Dominion again, which drove its operating ratio down to just 86.5%, substantially better than number 2 Saia, which had an OR of 94.6%.

(The operating ratio equals operating expense divided by operating revenue, a key measure of profitability in the transportation sector across all modes).


That said, Saia reduced its 2012 OR by 2.7 percentage points, and saw its net income rise by an impressive 180%.


Full Year 2012 LTL Carrier Results

Source: Supply Chain Digest


As always, we include some of the comments from the carrier's earning releases, though in general they were pretty brief this quarter.

YRC Worldwide

Noted that "Obviously, 2012 was a year of significant progress for the organization. We eliminated all distractions that have been keeping this company from focusing on what we do best."

The company noted that a key element of reducing its operating costs was a strong focus on employee safety.

"Our system-wide employee safety initiatives showed tremendous progress in 2012. Collaborating with employee safety committees at  terminals to drive cultural change from drivers to dockworkers, we are working more safely than ever before," the company said. That effort is leading to a continued decline in workers' compensation claims.

YRC's regional LTL business continues to outperform the national long-haul business, but the gap is shrinking. In Q4 2011, the OR for regional was 98.2%, versus 103.3% for national. But in Q4 2012, regional saw its OR fall to 97.9%, but national drove its operating ratio even lower, to 97.3%.


Arkasas Best/ABF Freight


Company said it saw generally flat year over year revenue, tonnage and pricing. However, when "normalized" relative to various market and environment changes, rates were up some 2.5%

The company's expedited and premium business, largely coming from its acquisition of Panther Expedited Services, is now up to 20% of total revenue. Arkansas best wants to be an 'integrated logistics solution provider."

Management is highly focused on "lowering our costs in the next labor contract through negotiations that are now underway," adding that it is the only remaining union LTL carrier still paying National Master Freight Agreement rates.


That agreement once covered 50,000 LTL drivers and terminal operators across many carriers; now it covers just 7500 employees at ABF.

The company says that without a change to the contract, it will be forced to close some terminals and distribution centers.


Old Dominion


Company said its annual operating ratio of 86.5% is a new record.


Its comparatively lackluster fourth quarter results "reflect in part the impact of Hurricane Sandy and severe winter weather conditions, which slowed our revenue growth and increased our operating costs."

Old Dominion said it was able to achieve a 3.7% increase in revenue per hundred weight, excluding fuel surcharge, driven in part by increased pricing.


Conway Freight


Revenue per hundredweight, or yield, increased 5.1 percent from the previous-year fourth quarter. Excluding the fuel surcharge, yield rose 4.2 percent.

The improvement in operating income was affected by an accelerated decline in daily tonnage at the close of the fourth quarter, which exceeded normal seasonality.




Compant said it remained "focused on yield improvement and advancing our operational efficiency goals."

It is continuing implementation of industrial engineering initiatives that have improved operating efficiencies, reduced its reliance on purchased transportation, increased fuel efficiency, reduced cargo claims expense and enhanced customer service.

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