The post-2005 tonnage outlook is starting to flesh out positively as retail sales data indicate that consumers are clearing out stocks for the holidays.

ShopperTrak estimated that retail sales on Black Friday jumped 10.8% year-over-year to reach $8 billion, reported the Wall Street Journal. Visa USA has announced that its cardholders charged over $4.1 billion on that Friday— a 15.5% jump over the same day last year.

“Consumers aren’t procrastinating this year,” said Wayne Best, Visa’s senior vp—strategic economic analysis. “They began their holiday shopping in early November and hit the malls in force on Black Friday.”

Retail giant Wal-Mart, however sung a different tune after lowering its year-over-year November sales forecast to 0.7% growth, compared to its earlier estimated increase of 2% to 4%.

Despite these mixed reports on the first month of the holiday shopping season, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) is expecting sales to be robust, which may translate to underlying strength in tonnage.

“If retail sales are strong during November and December, the new orders won’t be reflected in the truck tonnage index until 2005,” Tavio Headley, ATA economist, told Fleet Owner. “About one-fourth of retail sales in a given year are made between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so if they’re strong, we should see a boost.”

However, it is still too early to declare the holidays a success for retailers and truckers, said Headley, as the shopping season doesn’t end until a week after Christmas.

Tonnage actually slipped 0.4% in October from the previous month, which was attributed to there being two fewer working days compared to October 2003, and a somewhat decelerating economy.

“We’re still pretty optimistic— as long as we see the rebounding consumer spending, economic growth and expansion in manufacturing, tonnage should still be strong through the New Year,” Headley said.