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Latest strong LTL January numbers come from Forward Air, Old Dominion

Most important number — yield — up from January 2020

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

In the midst of earnings season, some data about LTL carriers’ performance in January is coming through, showing a strong month.

LTL carriers generally report out an intra quarterly update but generally do so after two months have gone by.  However, data for the first month of the quarter sometimes is released in conjunction with company earnings. 

In the most recent round of data, Forward Air (NASDAQ: FWRD) reported in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its Expedited Freight division — which is primarily but not exclusively LTL — saw a 10.9% increase in billable pounds per day compared to January 2020. Shipments per day rose 14.4%. Revenue per hundredweight, the benchmark for yield that is considered probably the most significant number about the health of a company, was up 1.3%, excluding fuel.

The January number was a sharp increase from the comparable number for December, when billable pounds per day were down 12.1% from the prior year. However, yield in December was up 3.4%, and yield for the fourth quarter was up 2.2% more than the 1.3% reported for January.

Forward Air has not yet released its earnings for the quarter. It will do so Feb. 11, with a conference call with analysts the next day.

The company was hit with a cyberattack in late December and has projected that the incident will affect its earnings. However, it did not project whether the cyberattack had an impact on measurements of activity as opposed to its bottom line. 

On the recent call with analysts after its own earnings were released, Old Dominion Freight Lines (NASDAQ: ODFL) discussed its performance in January. 

The company’s revenue per day was up 14.6% compared to January 2020. Revenue per hundredweight was 2.2%, including fuel. Responding to an analyst’s question, Old Dominion CEO Greg Gantt said that excluding fuel, the number was closer to 4%.

Gantt also said weight per shipment was 1,625 pounds in January, up 4.6% from the prior year. 

“Our business is still leaning a little heavier, if you will, on our larger national accounts that have a higher weight per shipment on average,” Gantt said, according to a transcript of the earnings call supplied by SeekingAlpha. “But I think that the strength in that number is some of our smaller customers get healthier and are making up, coming back to normal, if you will, in terms of a percent of our business.”

Both Saia (NASDAQ: SAIA) and ArcBest (NASDAQ: ARCB)  already reported strong growth in LTL tonnage in January.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.