Phoenix-based Knight Transportation bucked industry trends and reported higher operating income year over year for the first quarter.

"During one of the most challenging first quarters that we can remember for the trucking industry, Knight grew operating income year-over-year, hauled more loads than the year-ago period, increased our financial strength and improved our operations," said Chairman and CEO Kevin P. Knight "I am proud of our employees for the effort that drove these results."

The company reported diluted earnings per share of $0.14 compared to $0.13 in the year-ago period, an increase of 6.8 percent. Operating income was $19.4 million in the quarter, a 3.9 percent increase year-over-year. Net income of $11.7 million was up 2.9 percent.

Revenue before fuel surcharge of $133.1 million, a 5.8 percent decrease from the year-ago period. Primarily due to decreased fuel surcharge revenue, total revenue decreased 15.7 percent, to $148.7 million from $176.4 million for the same quarter of 2008.

"The first quarter is typically the slowest from a seasonal perspective, and this year we were also dealing with broad-based economic weakness," Knight said. "The rapid decline in industry-wide shipment activity that was evident in the fourth quarter initially carried over into the first. However, as the quarter progressed we did experience some moderation in the pace of the decline as some sectors of the economy appeared to replenish very low inventory levels."

Knight also credited the company's multiple-truckload service offerings for helping it grow market share, particularly within Knight Refrigerated and drayage activity through Knight Intermodal.

"Price competition remained intense during the quarter, and we experienced a high level of bid activity in the quarter," Knight said. "This activity has now tapered off to a more normal pace. However, the security of our strong financial position, the high levels of localized service provided through our network of service centers and branches, along with our diversified customer base, helped to mitigate some of these pricing pressures."

Equipment productivity, as measured by average revenue per tractor in the quarter, was down 4.7 percent from the year-ago period. Non-paid empty mile percentage increased to 12.5 percent from 11.9 percent in the year-ago period, and reflected weak freight demand. Average length of haul fell to 481 miles from 527 miles in the same period last year, partly due to increased drayage activity.