Some are seeing indications of economic recovery, but trucking, a traditional early indicator of the economy's direction, is still waiting for good news.

"(Inventory) numbers do not show a turnaround," said John White, president of U.S. Xpress, at the ALK Transportation Technology Summit April 21 in Princeton, N.J.

The inventory-to-sales ratio is the highest it has been since 2001, White said, citing statistics from the Department of Commerce and American Trucking Associations. He said that shippers are telling him that they will continue destocking their inventories, a sign that they are not seeing any increase in demand.

Meanwhile, trucking continues its search for hard ground. White said he believes the industry has lost about 15 percent of its total capacity. Some 45,000 trucking jobs were lost in the first quarter of this year. There were 3,065 bankruptcies last year - counting only fleets with five or more trucks - the highest in any 12-month period since 2001. The ATA For-Hire Tonnage Index fell 13.4 percent last year - "and we're not sure we've seen the bottom."

There is at least one positive, White said. Driver turnover has dropped significantly, probably because drivers who formerly jumped from one fleet to another in search of a better deal are now thinking that the grass is not necessarily greener. "That has helped us, but the reality is that it will not take much of an upturn to reignite the problem."

More details on White's remarks and the ALK conference will appear in the June issue of HDT.