The Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index (PCI) jumped 2.7% on a seasonally and workday adjusted basis in March – more than offsetting a 0.3% decline in January and a bigger 1.5% decline in February.

That’s welcome news for truckers because it indicates the U.S. economy is growing albeit slowly. On a quarter-over-quarter basis, the PCI is up 3.9% at an annualized rate, a welcome acceleration from the relatively weak growth of the PCI experienced in the second half of 2010, said Ed Leamer, chief PCI economist and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

The PCI is based on real-time diesel fuel consumption data from fuel card purchases tracked by Ceridian by over the road trucking and serves as an indicator of the state and possible future direction of the U.S. economy.

By tracking the volume and location of fuel being purchased the index closely monitors the over the road movement of raw materials, goods-in-process and finished goods to U.S. factories, retailers and consumers, said Craig Manson, senior vp and index expert for Ceridian.

“The PCI growth of 3.9% for the first quarter of 2011 is a middle-of the-road number, signaling that we are not in either one of the extremes. In other words, the recession is over, but we are not yet experiencing a robust recovery,” Leamer explained.

“This means that for the coming quarter, the PCI is expecting GDP growth close to historically normal levels of around 3% and normal increases in payroll jobs at approximately 150,000 per month,” Leamer pointed out. “The unemployment rate is likely to hold stubbornly to its current level but could be driven down by discouraged workers dropping out of the labor force.”

“March represents the sixteenth consecutive month of year-over-year growth in the index,” Manson stressed. "This is particularly encouraging because the first six months of last year were strong, and the index posted solid growth despite the difficult year-over-year comparison. Continuation of this trend is welcome news, because like the overall economy, the PCI has been growing since it first turned positive in December 2009.”