The most recent three-month period from December to February is lower than the previous three months from September to November 2011 by 3.2% at an annualized rate.
The Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index is based on real-time diesel fuel consumption data for over the road trucking. The PCI must grow by more than 4% from February to March to allow the PCI to grow positively in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the last quarter of 2011.
The year-over-year growth in the PCI since May of 2011 has been wobbling slightly above zero. In December 2011, the year-over-year growth turned decidedly negative at -0.8% with January 2012 even worse at -2.2%; February year-over-year was only slightly negative at -0.2%.
The divergence between the PCI and many other indicators is a puzzle, admit the index analysts. The PCI is 5 percent below its previous peak, while the GDP is above its previous peak. In fact, all of the components of GDP but one are above their previous peaks. Durable goods, nondurable goods, and services are all above their previous peaks. Most notable is the extreme swing in durable goods, at its trough 18% below its 2007 peak and now 7% above. That's a recession - postponement of durable good purchases and making do with what we have.
"The continuing weakness of the PCI is signaling that, perhaps, the recovery in home building has not yet taken hold," says Ed Leamer, chief economist for the Ceridian-UCLA PCI and Director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast. "The recent improvement in building permits and housing starts may get building going again and therefore, trucking as well, as it has been said that it takes 17 truckloads to build a home. If we get the saws and hammers going again, we will have a real recovery with much healthier job growth."