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Trumponomics Fails To Deliver As Truckers Cut Payrolls, Job Openings Fall & Tech Hiring Cools (#GotBitcoin?)

Job openings fell in February to the lowest level in nearly a year, a sign that demand for workers eased modestly during a month when hiring fell sharply. Trumponomics Fails To Deliver As Truckers Cut Payrolls, Job Openings Fall & Tech Hiring Cools (#GotBitcoin?)


Job Openings Fell by More Than 500,000 in February

Available jobs declined to lowest level since March 2018.

There were a seasonally adjusted 7.09 million unfilled jobs on the last business day of February, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That was down by more than 500,000 from January’s near record, to the lowest level of available jobs since March 2018.

“Like the rest of the economy, the labor market is not perfectly steady on its feet—it’s prone to the occasional wobbly month,” said Josh Wright, chief economist at iCIMS Inc., a maker of employee-recruiting software. “As the economy slows, we should see a few more wobbles over the course of 2019.”

Many economists expect the economy to gradually cool as the effects of last year’s tax cuts and stronger government spending fade, and the U.S. faces global headwinds. However, iCIMS, which separately tracks job opening figures, sees a healthy rebound in available positions in March.

The smaller number of openings came during a month when hiring slowed to a crawl. U.S. employers added 33,000 jobs to payrolls in February, revised data released last week showed. That was the smallest net job gain since September 2017, and one of the weakest months in the 102 straight months of improvements, dating back to 2010.

Any easing of demand for workers, however, may be only temporary. Employers added a solid 196,000 jobs to payrolls last month. February’s weakness may have reflected bad weather in parts of the country, slowing hiring and recruitment activities in some sectors, and a cooling after robust gains in both jobs and openings the prior month.

Openings declined in construction, local schools and leisure and hospitality, three categories that can be impacted by weather and temporary closures. Manufacturing openings also declined. Openings increased in professional and business services and held steady in health care.

There were 7.625 million job openings in January, revised data in a Tuesday report showed. That was just 1,000 fewer openings than November, the peak for available jobs on records back to 2000.

Despite February’s decline, jobs remain plentiful compared with the number of Americans who are unemployed but actively seeking work. There were 876,000 more available jobs than unemployed people.

Such a gap has occurred for 12 straight months, but never previously in nearly two decades of monthly records.

The report showed the rate at which workers quit their jobs held steady at 2.3% for the ninth straight month—the longest the rate has ever held at the same figure. That is a historically high rate, just below a record set in early 2001, but some economists have expected quits—a proxy of workers’ confidence in the job market—to move higher with the unemployment rate trending near 49-year lows.

Hiring Growth Slows Sharply As U.S. Adds Just 20,000 Jobs

The unemployment rate edged down to 3.8%.

Hiring growth slowed sharply in February, a sign that weakening global economic growth could be touching the U.S. economy, though strong wage growth and robust job gains in earlier months suggest the U.S. still has significant momentum.

U.S. nonfarm payrolls rose a seasonally adjusted 20,000 in February, the Labor Department said Friday, marking the slowest pace for job growth since September 2017, when hurricanes skewed the data, and falling well below economists’ expectations for 180,000 new jobs.

Jobs were lost in construction, mining and retail last month. Manufacturers added workers but at a slower pace.

“The sharp slowdown in payroll employment growth in February provides further evidence that economic growth has slowed in the first quarter,” wrote Michael Pearce, Capital Economics economist, in a note.

Still, economists warned against reading too much into February’s weaker-than-expected hiring. The three-month average for job gains clocked in at 186,000, a strong rate at this point in the economic expansion.

Slower hiring could also be a sign that employers are struggling to find workers.

A tighter labor market, in theory, should translate into faster wage growth, as employers compete for scarce labor. Friday’s report showed that is materializing: Wages rose 3.4% from a year earlier in February, a pace last matched in April 2009.

Average hourly earnings for all private-sector workers increased 11 cents last month to $27.66.

The labor-force participation rate, or the share of Americans working or looking for a job, held steady at 63.2% in February. That was up slightly from 63.0% a year earlier.

Participation generally had fallen since the early 2000s, as the wave of women entering the labor force slowed and baby boomers began to retire in greater numbers. But the rate has plateaued in recent years, as baby boomers are staying in the labor market longer and more workers are coming off the sidelines, defying expectations of demographic-driven declines.

The average workweek was 34.4 hours in February, down from 34.5 a month earlier.

Tech Hiring Cools In March

U.S. employers across all industries cut 155,000 IT jobs last month, while tech-sector employment rose by 16,000, CompTIA says.

Employers across the U.S. economy cut 155,000 information-technology jobs last month, following a sharp upturn in IT hiring in February, according to an analysis of the latest federal employment data by CompTIA Inc.

A total of 11.8 million people held tech jobs in 2018, up 2.3% from 2017. Tech positions accounted for 7.6% of the total U.S. workforce, up from 7.2%, CompTIA estimates.

Despite employment declines in March, the unemployment rate for IT occupations dropped to 1.9%, from 2.3% in February, the technology trade group said.

Hiring by U.S. businesses for all jobs in March increased a seasonally adjusted 196,000, up from 33,000 the previous month, while the overall unemployment rate inched up to 3.8%, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Postings for core IT positions by employers across all industries in March rose an estimated 62,433, after falling by nearly 40,000 in February, CompTIA said.

The highest demand was for software developers, followed by computer-user support specialists, computer-systems engineers and architects, computer-systems analysts and IT project managers.

Employment at companies within the tech sector rose by 16,000 jobs in March, up from 7,500 in February, with IT occupations accounting for roughly 44% of total tech-sector employment. The total also includes sales, marketing and other nontech positions at tech companies.

The sharpest gains at tech firms were led by IT and software services businesses, and computer, electronics and semiconductor manufacturers, driven by demand for technology-services staff, custom-software developers and computer-systems designers, the group said.

Tim Herbert, CompTIA’s senior vice president for research and market intelligence, said demand for these and other IT skills aligns with recent investments in technology.

“Technology services and software account for nearly half of spending in the U.S. tech market,” he said, citing continued growth in cloud computing, edge computing, 5G wireless networks and other infrastructure technologies.

He expects to see ongoing demand for tech workers in the software development and IT services and application fields.

Truckers Cut Payrolls As Freight Demand Softens

Hiring in broader logistics slows as red-hot growth pace of 2018 cools down.

Trucking companies pulled back from hiring in March as freight demand softened and job growth across the logistics sector slowed.

Carriers cut payrolls by 1,200 jobs last month, according to preliminary figures the Labor Department reported Friday, halting a nearly yearlong expansion amid signs a hot streak that boosted transportation companies’ profits in 2018 is cooling.

Trucking company Covenant Transportation Group Inc. last month lowered its first-quarter profit forecast, citing weaker than expected freight volumes from late January through mid-March.

“We attribute the softer demand to factors such as late 2018 inventory growth in advance of the perceived impact of tariffs, the effects of the partial government shutdown on spending and extended periods of inclement weather,” the company said in a statement.

Warehousing and storage companies added 1,700 jobs in March. It was the slowest month of growth since December in a sector where hiring has grown rapidly as more people shop online. Courier and messenger firms that deliver packages to homes and businesses added 1,800 jobs last month, recovering from a February slide when payrolls shrank by nearly 10,000.

Overall, U.S. employers added 196,000 jobs last month, bouncing back from weak hiring in February as unemployment held steady at 3.8%.

Sectors that feed goods into freight transport networks looked weaker, however. Factories cut 6,000 jobs, the first decline in the sector since July 2017, even though a separate report shows U.S. manufacturing activity expanding. Retail payrolls plunged by 11,700 as the service-sector expansion slowed.

The overall pace of logistics hiring slowed during the first quarter. Trucking companies, parcel-delivery firms and warehouse operators together added 144,500 jobs over the 12-month period ending in March, down from 167,200 in the 12 months through February and 191,200 through January.

The slowdown comes as other signs suggest the freight market is retrenching.

North American heavy-duty truck orders plunged 66% last month compared with March 2018. The Cass Information Systems Inc. Freight Index for U.S. domestic shipments declined year-over-year in February for the third straight month.

Demand for logistics workers is still outstripping supply, however, especially for skilled positions such as truck drivers and forklift operators, said Doug Hammond, zone president at Randstad US, a subsidiary of Dutch recruiting firm Randstad Holding NV.

“We are seeing a number of clients, especially in the retail and retail distribution space, making significant moves in their base wages,” with increases of between 8% and 10%, Mr. Hammond said.

Heavy-Duty Truck Orders Hit Lowest Level In Nine Years

Decline comes as truckers point to excess capacity and dimming industrial shipping demand.

The market for heavy-duty trucks at the heart of the U.S. industrial sector is running out of road.

Orders for Class 8 trucks fell last month to their lowest level since 2010, transportation-equipment research groups said. The July figure is the weakest yet since a strong rebound in truck-buying in 2018 lost steam this year on faltering freight-market demand.

“There is going to be a significant decrease in production coming in the second half of the year carrying into 2020,” said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at transport research group FTR.

FTR, which tracks equipment purchases by freight transportation carriers, said orders for heavy-duty trucks in North America fell to 9,800 in July, down 82% from a year ago. Separately, ACT Research said it counted 10,200 orders last month, the fewest it has measured in a month since February 2010. Figures for both groups were preliminary, with final reports due later this month.

Truck orders typically bottom out in the summer, with large carriers placing the bulk of equipment orders in the fourth quarter. But the seasonal pattern was upended last year as trucking companies flush with cash from a surging freight market and gains from the federal tax cut placed record monthly orders of more than 52,000 units in July and August 2018, according to FTR.

Now transportation companies are wrestling with “a persistent oversupply of capacity,” Mark Rourke, chief executive of Green Bay, Wis.-based truckload carrier Schneider National Inc., said in an Aug. 1 earnings conference call.

DAT Solutions LLC, which matches available trucks to companies looking to move goods in trucking’s spot market, said its measure of capacity in that arena was up 22.6% in July from a year ago while demand was down 37.3%. Several trucking companies said in their second-quarter earnings reports that increases in contract rates also have pulled back since the start of the year.

Truckers say a big part of the waning demand comes from weakness in the manufacturing sector. The Institute for Supply Management’s closely watched measure of U.S. factory activity fell in July for the fourth straight month, reaching the lowest level since August 2016.

Along with cancellations of orders, the pullback in truck purchases has reduced the backlog at factory lines by more than a third since it reached a multiyear high at the end of 2018.

“The industry backlog declined this quarter to below 200,000 units from its peak of over 300,000 eight months ago,” Tom Linebarger, chief executive of engine-maker Cummins Inc., said in a July 30 earnings call.

FTR now expects factory output of heavy-duty trucks to decline 22% next year to about 275,000 units, down from the 353,000 units forecast for 2019, Mr. Ake said.

“Certainly the pressure to get in line that there was last year does not exist this year,” said ACT Research President Kenny Vieth. “Ultimately, truckers have purchased too many trucks relative to the amount of freight expected in 2019.”


U.S. Budget Gap Widened in First Four Months of Fiscal Year

U.S. tax revenues declined 1.5% over past 12 months, Treasury says.

The U.S. budget gap widened in the first four months of the fiscal year as tax collections fell and federal spending increased.

The government ran a $310 billion deficit from October through January, compared with $176 billion during the same period a year earlier, a 77% increase, the Treasury Department said Tuesday.

Federal outlays climbed 9% the first four months of fiscal 2019, which began Oct. 1, and total receipts declined 2%.

Part of the percentage increase in the deficit was attributable to a shift in the timing of certain payments, which made the deficit appear smaller in the first four months of fiscal year 2018, Treasury said. If not for those timing shifts, the deficit would have risen 40.2% so far this fiscal year.

The tax code overhaul that took effect last year has constrained federal revenues over the past year, while a two-year budget deal has boosted government spending, particularly on defense. On a 12-month basis, revenues declined 1.5%, while outlays have risen 4.4%.

The budget deficit rose to $913.5 billion for the 12 months ended January, or 4.4% of gross domestic product. The last time the 12-month deficit exceeded 4.4% of GDP was in May 2013.

U.S. Posts Record Annual Trade Deficit

The shortfall grew last year despite President Trump’s aim to reduce it.

The international trade deficit in goods and services widened 19% in December from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted $59.8 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a $57.3 billion gap.

The shortfall grew last year despite President Trump’s aim to reduce it.

Over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on a range of goods that the U.S. imports from other countries, particularly China, in hopes of giving American producers a competitive edge. He publicly lambasted companies that outsourced jobs, renegotiated pacts with major U.S. trade partners like Mexico, Canada and South Korea, and rankled longtime European allies by deeming their steel and aluminum exports a threat to national security.

Still, the trade gap swelled 12% from 2017 to $621 billion. Excluding services that the U.S. sells to foreigners, such as tourism, intellectual property and banking, the deficit grew 10% to $891.3 billion, the largest level on record.

Economists say the shortfall was fueled, ironically, by another Trump administration policy: tax cuts and spending increases that juiced demand from U.S. consumers and businesses at a time when growth in the rest of the world was slowing. Concern that the U.S. economy could overheat prompted the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates four times in 2018, contributing to a strong dollar in the second half of the year that made foreign goods relatively

As a result, U.S. imports grew 7.5%, while exports increased just 6.3%.

“Higher take-home incomes for households have definitely proven to be very conducive to imports,” said Pooja Sriram, an economist at Barclays. “The outcome has been in almost the opposite direction of what the administration has wanted.”

U.S. imports of consumer goods last year jumped 7.7% to $647.9 billion, fueled in part by a 22% rise in inbound shipments of drugs. Industrial supplies like fuel and crude oil were another driver of the trade gap, with imports rising 13% from 2017 to $575.7 billion.

Highlighting the limitations of Mr. Trump’s trade policies, the goods deficit widened most with China, the U.S.’s largest commercial partner and the main focus of White House efforts. That is partly because Chinese authorities responded to tariffs by drastically scaling back their country’s purchases of key U.S. exports like soybeans, cars and metals, production of which is concentrated in states that Mr. Trump won in the 2016 election.

U.S. goods exports to China fell 7.4% in 2018 to $120.3 billion, while imports from China grew 6.7% to $539.5 billion as Americans increased their purchases of electronics, furniture, toys and other products.

But the deficit in goods also widened in other countries where Mr. Trump aimed his trade war, including the European Union and Mexico.

Most economists disagree with Mr. Trump’s strategy of targeting a reduction in the trade deficit, saying it merely reflects underlying economic forces. But deficits do subtract from gross domestic product, and the widening of the trade shortfall at the end of 2018 was a factor in slower U.S. growth in the fourth quarter.

Andrew Hunter, an economist at Capital Economics, said that’s likely to continue in early 2019 with imports set to grow while weaker global demand weighs on exports.

“Trade now looks set to be a more serious drag in the first quarter,” Mr. Hunter said in a note to clients. He estimates annualized GDP growth will slow to just 1.5% in the first three months of 2019, down from 2.6% in the fourth quarter.

The Idiocy Behind Trumponomics

U.S. deficits may not matter so much after all—and it might not hurt to expand them for the right reasons.

As the national debt swells, some economists are making a once-heretical argument: The U.S. needn’t be so worried about all of its red ink.

The 2017 Republican tax cuts and this year’s Democratic spending proposals have reignited long-simmering worries that the debt is getting too big. Annual deficits are set to top $1 trillion starting in 2022 and the Congressional Budget Office projects debt will total 93% of gross domestic product by the end of the next decade.

Yet borrowing costs are still historically low, despite a surge in deficits and debt in the years following the financial crisis. Debt as a share of GDP rose from 34% before the recession, to 78% at the end of 2018. Treasury yields, on the other hand, have fallen from over 4% before the recession to 2.7%.

That suggests investors aren’t worried about holding large volumes of credit.

In theory, high debt levels should cause interest rates to rise. That’s because investors will demand higher returns to compensate for the risk they take on when the government borrows at unsustainable levels or because they worry that so much debt could trigger inflation. The need to finance such high levels of debt also makes less money available for other investments.

In practice, investors are happy to keep lending to the U.S. in good times and bad, regardless of how much it borrows. In 2009, for instance, when the Obama administration’s stimulus efforts sent federal deficits rising to almost 10% of GDP, the highest since World War II, the interest on 10-year Treasury securities remained below where it had been before the recession.

Many Republicans warned the U.S. was pushing itself to the brink of a fiscal crisis and pressed Mr. Obama to rein in spending. Economists debated how much debt a nation could hold before it crimped growth. In one paper, Harvard University economics professor Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, found that countries with debt loads greater than 90% of GDP tended to have slower growth rates.

Now, some prominent economists say U.S. deficits don’t matter so much after all, and it might not hurt to expand them in return for beneficial programs such as an infrastructure project.

“The levels of debt we have in the U.S. are not catastrophic,” said Olivier Blanchard, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “We clearly can afford more debt if there is a good reason to do it. There’s no reason to panic.”

Mr. Blanchard, also a former IMF chief economist, delivered a lecture at last month’s meeting of the American Economic Association where he called on economists and policymakers to reconsider their views on debt.

The crux of Mr. Blanchard’s argument is that when the interest rate on government borrowing is below the growth rate of the economy, financing the debt should be sustainable.

Interest rates will likely remain low in the coming years as the population ages. An aging population borrows and spends less and limits how much firms invest, holding down borrowing costs. That suggests the government will not be faced with an urgent need to shrink the debt.

Mr. Blanchard stops short of arguing that the government should run up its debt indiscriminately. The need to finance higher government debt loads could soak up capital from investors that might otherwise be invested in promising private ventures.

Mr. Rogoff himself is sympathetic. “The U.S. position is very strong at the moment,” he said. “There’s room.”

Some left-wing economists go even further by arguing for a new way of thinking about fiscal policy, known as Modern Monetary Theory.

MMT argues that fiscal policy makers are not constrained by their ability to find investors to buy bonds that finance deficits—because the U.S. government can, if necessary, print its own currency to finance deficits or repay bondholders—but by the economy’s ability to support all the additional spending and jobs without shortages and inflation cropping up.

Rather than looking at whether a new policy will add to the deficit, lawmakers should instead consider whether new spending could lead to higher inflation or create dislocation in the economy, said economist Stephanie Kelton, a Stony Brook University professor and former chief economist for Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee.

If the economy has the ability to absorb that spending without boosting price pressures, there’s no need for policy makers to “offset” that spending elsewhere, she said. If price pressures do crop up, policy makers can raise taxes or the Federal Reserve can raise interest rates.

“All we’re saying, the MMT approach, is just to point out that there’s more space,” she said. “We could be richer as a nation if we weren’t so timid in the use of fiscal policy.”

So far the runup in government debt has not led to steep price increases. Inflation has stayed at or below the Federal Reserve’s target for most of the past quarter century.

Still, many other economists aren’t ready to embrace these ideas.

Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, says the MMT view “is just silly” and could lead to unwanted or unexpected inflation.

Meantime, Greece and Italy are two recent examples of countries that appear to have hit thresholds where high debt loads lead to higher interest rates and economic pain. The U.S. may have such a threshold too, just not yet seen.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists found that countries with higher debt-to-GDP ratios heading into recessions have smaller fiscal responses, and subsequently worse growth outcomes, though countries that issue debt in their own currency—such as the U.S.—appear to be less affected.

By continuing to run large deficits, says Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the U.S. is slowing wage growth by crowding out private investment, increasing the amount of the budget dedicated to financing the past and putting the country at a small but increased risk of a future fiscal crisis.

Market interest rate signals can be misleading and dangerous. By blessing the U.S. with such low rates now, he says, financial markets just might be “giving us the rope with which to hang ourselves.”

Updated: 7-6-2019

U.S. Trade Gap Widened In May Despite Tariff Moves Trade deficit in goods and services jumped 8.4% in May from a month earlier. The U.S. trade gap widened sharply in May despite a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods that took effect in the first half of the month. The trade deficit in goods and services jumped 8.4% in May from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted $55.52 billion in May, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The gap widened because of the biggest monthly rise in imports in more than four years along with moderate growth in exports amid a cooling global economy. The monthly trade figures provide a window into how U.S. trade is affecting the economy. Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo , said that a bigger trade deficit appears likely to shave around half a percentage point off economic growth in the second quarter after adding almost twice that much in the first. Regarding U.S. trade with China, the bilateral goods deficit widened in May by 12% from the prior month to $30.2 billion, as both imports and exports rose sharply. President Trumpraised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25% from 10% on May 10. Beijing retaliated by increasing levies on $60 billion of U.S. imports. Analysts didn’t expect the tariff moves to have a major impact on the May figures because the moves were unexpected and came midway through the month, giving companies little time to react. The trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies has yet to be resolved. Though negotiations between Mr. Trump and his Chinese counterpart resumed last month, companies saw the latest round of tariff increases as a sign that trade tensions between the countries are likely to simmer, and executives are scrambling to contain the impact. Wednesday’s numbers increase the likelihood that foreign trade will drag on broader U.S. economic growth in the second quarter. Capital Economics said it expects gross domestic product growth in the second quarter to come in around 1.5% in annual terms, down from 3.1% in the first quarter. Trade deficits subtract from GDP, and economists say a narrowing gap in the first quarter made growth appear better than underlying trends in U.S. investment and consumer spending implied. Ms. House, of Wells Fargo, said the economy is “still relatively strong compared to what’s happening in the broader global economy,” a factor driving imports and the trade deficit. How the trade balance performs going forward, she said, will in part depend on when Boeing Co. is able to resume exports of its best-selling 737 MAX aircraft, which has been grounded since March due to safety questions. Civilian-aircraft exports rose in May from April but were down 12% in the first five months of 2019 compared with a year earlier. Many economists expect aircraft shipments to decline further in the months ahead. Imports rose 3.3% in May from April, the fastest monthly growth since March 2015, to $266.16 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The increase was led by a 7.5% rise in automotive imports, to a record $33.23 billion, as well as an 11% jump in crude-oil imports, to $13.02 billion.

Updated: 8-29-2019

Trucking Company Shutdowns Grow As Shipping Market Cools

Carrier failures more than triple in the first half of 2019 from the prior year period as truckers cope with slowing demand.

Trucking company failures are rising as faltering freight demand exposes operators unprepared for a downturn after last year’s red-hot shipping market.

Approximately 640 carriers went out of business in the first half of 2019, up from 175 for the same period last year and more than double the total number of trucker failures in 2018, according to transportation industry data firm Broughton Capital LLC.

This week, Denver-based HVH Transportation Inc. abruptly shut down, stranding about 150 drivers and loads out on the road. The closure adds to a 2019 tally that includes Ohio truckload company Falcon Transport Co. and regional less-than-truckload carriers New England Motor Freight Inc. and LME Inc.

Former HVH Chief Executive John Kenneally said he is negotiating with the carrier’s bank on steps to help get the drivers’ fuel cards reactivated so they can deliver their loads and get home. The company has about 380 trucks, including those tied to a related Canadian company, FTI Transportation, which also shut this week, Mr. Kenneally said. That company also belonged to HVH’s owner, private-equity firm HCI Equity Partners.

The increasing number of closures come as trucking companies that boosted driver pay and plowed last year’s profits into record orders for new equipment now are wrestling with a tougher pricing environment and slackening demand.

In 2018, “demand was so strong, rates were so strong, it was virtually impossible to fail,” said Donald Broughton, Broughton Capital’s managing partner.

Trucking rates stalled out in July, falling 0.1% from the prior year after a 27-month run of annual increases, according to the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, which measures per-mile pricing for truckload carriers. Prices on trucking’s spot market, where shippers book last-minute transportation, were down nearly 19% last month compared with 2018, according to online freight marketplace DAT Solutions LLC.

That swing has hurt transport operators that shifted more business to the spot market last year to take advantage of surging rates. That also has proved painful for smaller operators that depend more on trucking’s spot market and may not have the leverage big trucking companies have with shipping customers to build higher prices into their contract rates.

Some trucking companies say rising insurance costs also are weighing on the business. Mr. Kenneally said HVH’s monthly insurance bill more than doubled this year, to about $368,000 from $150,000 in 2018.

Some trucking executives believe the recent spate of smaller carrier bankruptcies will give “larger carriers added control and pricing power in the marketplace,” Cowen & Co. transportation analyst Jason Seidl wrote in a research note last month.

Many big operators both bolstered their balance sheets during last year’s freight surge and deepened their ties to shipping customers with a broader array of services.

This week, Iowa-based truckload operator Heartland Express Inc. bought trucker Millis Transfer Inc. for about $150 million. Heartland last month reported its net profit jumped 25.6% in the second quarter despite declining revenue, and cash on the truckload carrier’s balance sheet jumped more than 27% from the end of 2018 to June 30, to $205.6 million.

Truckers Slashed Payrolls In August

The job cuts in trucking came as hiring in manufacturing and other goods-producing sectors remained weak.

Trucking fleets slashed 4,500 jobs last month and the pace of hiring slowed across the logistics field amid signs of tepid growth in the U.S. goods-producing economy.

The pullback in truck payrolls in August ended a four-month expansion, according to preliminary seasonally adjusted employment figures released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall shipping-focused transportation and logistics sector, excluding passenger and sightseeing companies, contracted by 600 jobs.

Courier and messenger companies that deliver packages to homes and businesses added 3,900 jobs, while warehousing and storage businesses, including fulfillment centers that process online orders, added 1,000 jobs in August. Those gains come as a divide between the U.S. industrial and consumer economies has been growing in recent months.

Road and rail carriers focused on industrial transport are grappling with softening shipping demand and a contraction in manufacturing operations that pushes freight through logistics networks.

Broader U.S. employment grew modestly in August, adding 130,000 positions including 25,000 temporary Census workers. The unemployment rate remained at 3.7% for the third straight month and average hourly earnings rose 3.2% from August 2018.

Goods-producing companies contributed just 12,000 jobs, however, and employment in manufacturing rose by only 3,000 jobs. The transportation equipment sector accounted for nearly a quarter of those gains, although truck manufacturers have said they expect production to slow in coming months.

Orders for heavy-duty Class 8 trucks fell 79% in August from the prior year, according to transportation data provider ACT Research. Production rates are dropping as truck makers work through backlogs from 2018. ACT expects equipment makers to build 238,000 units next year for the North American market, a 31% drop in production from the 2019 forecast.

Truck maker Navistar International Corp. will slow production at some of its plants because of declining U.S. and export orders and a falling backlog, finance chief Walter Borst said in a Sept. 4 earnings call.

The company plans to lay off about 136 unionized workers at a Springfield, Ohio, plant that makes medium-duty trucks, said Chris Blizard, president of United Auto Workers Local 402.

A Navistar spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“If history is a guide there will be layoffs up and down the truck manufacturing supply chain as a result of falling demand, exacerbating the need to draw inventories down,” ACT president and senior analyst Kenny Vieth said.

On the road, big trucking companies are signaling they are more interested in maintaining pricing leverage gained amid surging demand in 2018 than in expanding capacity.

Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., one of the country’s largest less-than-truckload carriers, said in a mid-quarter operating update on Wednesday that its average daily shipment count declined by 4% in August from the same month a year ago but that revenue per hundredweight, a measure of pricing, expanded by 6.1%, excluding fuel surcharges.

“We remained committed to our disciplined yield management process,” ODFL Chief Executive Greg Gantt said.

Ramped-up U.S. consumer spending is providing a counterweight to the manufacturing slowdown. Retail sales and personal-consumption expenditures both rose in July.

Demand for local delivery drivers and distribution workers remains strong, with employers having trouble recruiting and retaining staff, said Melissa Hassett, vice president of client delivery for ManpowerGroup Solutions Recruitment Process Outsourcing, a subsidiary of staffing company agency ManpowerGroup Inc.

Last year an extra $1 an hour was enough to attract drivers and warehouse workers, Ms. Hassett said. “Now it needs to be a dollar plus scheduling flexibility or training opportunities,” she said.

Updated: 10-6-2019

Trucking Companies Cut Payrolls For Third Straight Month In September

Trucking company payrolls contracted last month as a manufacturing slump weighed on freight demand while logistics sectors tied to e-commerce notched modest gains.

Truckers cut 4,200 jobs in September, the third straight month of declining payrolls, according to preliminary employment figures the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released Friday. The cutbacks came as carriers slammed the brakes on fleet-expansion plans.

Warehousing and storage businesses added 3,400 workers, meantime, as a sector that includes labor-intensive online fulfillment centers stepped up recruitment ahead of the holiday season. The Labor Department revised its earlier numbers to show warehouse operators gained 1,700 jobs in August after earlier reporting a 1,000-job increase.

Hiring expansion slowed at parcel carriers that deliver packages to homes and businesses. Courier and messenger companies added 3,600 jobs in September.

Overall the U.S. gained 136,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5%, a 50-year-low.

Expanded hiring in health care and business and professional services helped offset weakness in the industrial sector that feeds freight networks. Manufacturers lost a net 2,000 jobs, including 4,100 positions at companies that make motor vehicles and auto parts.

The weakness in the industrial sectors includes manufacturers of trucks. Orders for heavy-duty trucks fell 72% in September from the prior year, when trucking companies flush with cash from the 2018 freight boom raced to expand fleets and replace older equipment, according to research firm FTR.

Daimler Trucks North America LLC this week said it would lay off about 900 workers at two North Carolina Freightliner plants. “The market is now clearly returning to normal market levels,” the company said. “This levelling-off in the market requires us to adjust our production levels to meet the normalized demand and therefore reduce our current build rates and employment levels at these locations.”

The trucking sector now has cut payrolls by 9,600 jobs over the past three months.

Trucking companies that stepped up recruitment last year also are cutting off that hiring pipeline as freight demand softens, said Avery Vise, FTR’s vice president of trucking. “They overshot things a little,” he said. What’s more, “a lot of smaller carriers are going out of business…through August we’ve already lost twice as many for-hire carriers than we lost in the entire of 2018.”

This week Roadrunner Transportation Systems Inc., a large Downers Grove, Ill.-based trucking company, said it plans to cut about 450 jobs, or 10% of its total workforce, as it downsizes its unprofitable Rich Logistics truckload business as part of a broader operational overhaul.

Logistics employers in sectors tied more closely to retail and e-commerce are in expansion mode as they prepare for the holiday peak. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to rise by between 3.8% to 4.2% this year, although it warned that slowing economic growth and uncertainty over trade could erode consumer confidence.

Delivery giant United Parcel Service Inc. plans to hire 100,000 seasonal workers this year, and staffing agencies report demand for warehouse labor is outstripping the available supply.

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