While Marten Transport saw some improvement over the third quarter of 2009, its fourth quarter results were disappointing on a year-over-year basis, with income down 29.6 percent from the year-ago quarter.

Net income was $4.3 million, or 19 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, compared with $3.5 million, or 16 cents a share, for the third quarter, and $5.8 million, or 27 cents a share, for the fourth quarter of 2008.

The Mondovi, Wis.-based truckload carrier saw its operating revenue, which includes revenue from truckload and logistics operations, drop 8.3 percent to $128.7 million in the fourth quarter from $140.4 million in the 2008 quarter. The company attributes the decrease in operating revenue to a challenging operating environment, reduced freight demand, excess capacity and increasing pressure on pricing.

Chairman and CEO Randolph L. Marten had a positive outlook for the carrier's future. "We believe that many of the benefits of our strategic initiatives, which include a transformation to a more regional network from our traditional long-haul business and further expansion into the temperature-controlled intermodal market, will be more pronounced as demand increases," he said. "We believe that this transformation of our services along with our competitive position, cost control emphasis, modern fleet and strong balance sheet position us well for growth."

Analysts at Stifel Nicolaus agree with Marten and expect the carrier to remain debt free through the end of 2010 and into 2011. The company's earnings were 1 cent better than Stifel Nicolaus projected. The researchers are leaving their estimates for earnings per share at 90 cents and $1.15 for 2010 and 2011, respectively.

"These estimates reflect our view that both the economic recovery and the recovery of truckload fundamentals will be gradual over the next three years," according to a Stifel Nicolaus letter to investors.