Although it is too early to make any broad conclusions on the turnout of retailing’s Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), the intense media scrutiny of holiday sales is providing trucking executives with a valuable glimpse into the first quarter of 2005, Chris Brady, president of Commercial Motor Vehicle Consulting told Fleet Owner.

“We really won’t find out how holiday sales went until January or so but fleet executives should keep an eye on what retailers are saying about sales in relation to their ordering plans,” said Brady.

“There are basically three scenarios: sales will be higher, equal to, or below retailers’ expectations,” explained Brady. “I’d pay attention to what the retailer is saying about sales in comparison to their plan. Whatever the results are is going to cause the retailer to make adjustments in the first quarter.”

“The best scenario would be that sales are above expectations, which would make retailers reorder to replenish lean stocks and meet high sales volumes,” he said. “That would ensure high volumes well into the first quarter. But the danger is if sales are below expectations, the result will be a backup in distribution centers, and the opposite will occur.”

With approximately a fourth of all retail sales revenues typically generated within the holiday shopping season, it is prudent for fleet executives to understand how their customers are doing, Brady said.

Based on trends from the most recent government data, Brady believes there will be moderate growth in freight tonnage by the first quarter. “Sales will probably be roughly in line with retailers’ expectations,” he said.

Consumer spending continued to accelerate right before the holiday shopping season, setting the stage for moderate growth in post-holiday tonnage. The latest roundup of economic data points to a consumer base with a widening pool of cash, and that they are spending it.

In October consumer spending accelerated at an even faster rate than their income growth, said the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income, or total consumer income less taxes, grew a solid 0.6%-- a $53.6 billion increase. Personal consumption expenditures, also known as consumer spending, jumped 0.7%-- a $61.2 billion jump.

This suggests consumers dipped into their savings to spend. “This means we’re not likely to see consumption growth above personal income growth since households have substantially larger debt,” Brady explained. “If households had low debt they could more quickly support consumption growth, but instead consumption will grow at roughly the same rate as income.”

Separately, the unemployment rate was 5.4% as nonfarm payroll employment increased by 112,000 in November. This reflects expanding payrolls in several service-providing industries, such as health care, social assistance, leisure and hospitality. Manufacturing jobs remain about unchanged since last month while construction jobs edged up by 11,000.

The manufacturing sector, an industry that trucking firms draw much of its business from, continued showing strong growth in October. Trucking received additional cushioning for strong tonnage as manufacturers’ backlogs grew 0.5%-- a $2.7-billion increase, the Census Bureau said. New orders accelerated 0.5% to reflect $1.9-billion growth.

The construction sector, another major benefactor to trucking, was flat in October as the seasonally adjusted rate of spending held at approximately $1 trillion, the Census Bureau said. Construction has been trending upwards and is “a bright spot” in the economy, Brady noted.