For those looking for bright spots in otherwise dismal economic reports, there have been a few rays of hope recently. Consumer confidence is up, inventories are falling on rising sales and two major home builders are positioning themselves for future growth.

And someone is banking on a turnaround in the trucking industry. Private-equity firm Atlantic Street Capital, based in Stamford, CT, has purchased EZE Trucking, a California-based heavy hauler that has been in business since 1971. EZE also has a brokerage service. Atlantic is looking to an industry turnaround that could generate significant return on its investment.

“We believe the acquisition of EZE Trucking represents an exciting opportunity for Atlantic Street to support a leading player in the attractive specialty transportation sector," said Peter Shabecoff, managing partner of Atlantic Street Capital. “As the country continues to invest in improving its deteriorating network of roads and bridges, that will have a key impact on EZE’s growth. We look forward to working with [EZE president Kirk Jensen] and his senior management team to provide the capital and resources to further grow the business.”

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For those looking for bright spots in otherwise dismal economic reports, there have been a few rays of hope recently. Consumer confidence is up, inventories are falling on rising sales and two major home builders are positioning themselves for future growth.

And someone is banking on a turnaround in the trucking industry. Private-equity firm Atlantic Street Capital, based in Stamford, CT, has purchased EZE Trucking, a California-based heavy hauler that has been in business since 1971. EZE also has a brokerage service. Atlantic is looking to an industry turnaround that could generate significant return on its investment.

“We believe the acquisition of EZE Trucking represents an exciting opportunity for Atlantic Street to support a leading player in the attractive specialty transportation sector," said Peter Shabecoff, managing partner of Atlantic Street Capital. “As the country continues to invest in improving its deteriorating network of roads and bridges, that will have a key impact on EZE’s growth. We look forward to working with [EZE president Kirk Jensen] and his senior management team to provide the capital and resources to further grow the business.”

On Wednesday, the Dept. of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported a 2% increase in its Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) for February-- marking its largest one-month rise since January 2008. The level in January, 102.7, was the lowest in five years. The index is still down 0.3% for the year.

The TSI measures month-to-month changes in the output of services provided by the for-hire industry. The index consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. Year over year, the index is down 6% from February 2008.

As to inventories, companies seem to be shedding excess stock-- indicating the need to replenish that stock may be close at hand.

“Excess supply conditions don’t look as bad as they were,” Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse Holdings, Inc. in New York, told Bloomberg. “This is encouraging because it’s not just happening in wholesaling, it’s happening at the factory sector, too.”

Wholesale inventories fell 1.5% in February compared to January, but sales of U.S. wholesalers climbed 0.6%, the first increase since June 2008. Revised January sales numbers were down 2.4%, lower than the original estimate of 2.9%.

The inventory-to-sales ratio, a measure of how many months it will take for a company to deplete its inventory, fell to 1.31-- down from 1.34 in January. That indicates less inventory on hand, which, according to Bloomberg, means any stabilization in demand will translate into an increase in orders. That’s good news for trucking, which already may be seeing a small pickup.

“Right now, there’s not a lot of freight, but I spoke to about 100 brokers at the [Transportation Intermediaries Assn.] and they said January was very dead, but March really picked up,” Tom Heine, president of Aljex, a supplier of software, told Fleet Owner.

The government also reported that durable goods sales improved 2% in February after a 6.2% drop in January. Non-durable goods sales fell 0.4%.

Michael Englund, chief economist at Action Economics LLC in Boulder, CO, wrote in a note to clients that the news was “encouraging. By mid-year, we should be seeing a sizable pace of contraction in inventories relative to sales, which should pave the way for positive production figures by the second half of the year.”

Consumer confidence also has risen, climbing 3.8 points to 79.5 out of 100 in the Discover Financial Services monthly index. The survey, which asked 15,000 adults their opinions of the economy, reported 15% believe the economy to be improving.

And the dismal housing segment received a boost Wednesday as Pulte Homes, Inc., and Centex Corp., two major players in the home-building industry, announced an agreement to merge in a $3.1 billion deal, creating the largest home builder in the nation. The two companies, with combined revenues of $11.6 billion in 2008, are positioning themselves for the expected economic upturn.

“We believe this is the right combination at the right time in the business cycle,” said Timothy Eller, Centex chairman & CEO. “By acting decisively now, we’re creating unrivaled firepower to capitalize on the opportunities in homebuilding that are now becoming visible on the horizon.”

“Combining these two industry leaders with proud legacies into one company puts us in an excellent position to navigate through the current housing downturn, poised to accelerate our return to profitability,” said Pulte president & CEO Richard J. Dugas Jr.

Share of home builders across the board climbed sharply on the news. Centex stock jumped nearly 30%, while Standard Pacific Corp. spiked more than 12% and Hovnanian Enterprises and Lennar Corp. were also up more than 10%.