Profits margins of 13.9% for the fourth quarter and 13.7% for all of 2004 helped Coralville, IA-based truckload carrier Heartland Express close out the year well in the black.

For the fourth quarter, Heartland said net income topped $16.6 million on 15.9% higher revenues of $119.4 million compared to the same quarter in 2003. For all of 2004, Heartland noted net income rose to $62.4 million on 12.8% higher revenues of $457.1 million compared to 2003.

Still, Heartland said conflicting trends in terms of strong freight demand and a tight market for experienced drivers continue to challenge the truckload industry.

“In the first quarter of 2005, for the second year in a row, [we’re] increasing driver pay by 3 cents per mile,” said John Cosaert, Heartland’s CFO. “These increases, along with the increase implemented this past quarter for miles driven in the upper Northeastern United States has solidified Heartland's industry leading driver compensation package.”

He added that the replacement of the carrier’s tractor fleet -- scheduled to be completed by December 31, 2006 -- continued during the fourth quarter. Heartland took a delivery of 800 new International 9400i model tractors at the end of 2004, the company noted.