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2017 CCJ Top 250: Revenue growth among for-hire carriers stagnant amid lackluster economic conditions in 2016


Trucking faced a myriad of headwinds in 2016 that resulted in anemic growth in most segments of the industry. Chief among them was a nine-year high in retail inventory-to-sales ratios in the first quarter that led to weak demand throughout much of the freight network for the rest of the year. A contentious presidential election cycle further dampened optimism for business investments, and consumer spending was frozen until the election was over.

Both the general freight and refrigerated segments of the 2017 CCJ Top250 companies experienced stagnant financial results in 2016. Of those companies in the rankings that self-reported revenues for both 2015 and 2016, general freight revenues rose only 0.3 percent, and refrigerated revenues were flat at 0.0 percent.

Trucking companies serving the oil and gas and fracking markets also struggled with depressed market conditions through the first three quarters of 2016. According to companies in the flatbed/specialized/heavy haul and tank/bulk commodities segments that self-reported revenues for both 2015 and 2016, revenues were down 1.7 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Those two segments were joined by household goods, for which CCJ Top 250 companies reported a 5.2 percent decrease in revenue, as well as a 3.4 percent decrease in reported revenue for motor vehicles despite strong car sales.

But 2016 wasn’t completely without merits. Carriers with competencies in last-mile and pickup-and-delivery services benefited from the growing e-commerce market. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce represented roughly $390 billion of U.S. retail sales in 2016, a 15-percent increase from the previous year.

CCJ Top 250 Breakdown by Segment

 * Scroll right to see the full chart.
Segment Carriers % of total Power units % of total Revenue change 2015 to 2016** Revenue per power unit* Revenue per driver*
Dedicated contract carriage 19 7.6% 29,240 4.4% 5.6% $223,416 $213,345
Flatbed/specialized/heavy  25 10.0% 31,006  4.7%  -1.7%  $175,548 $176,096
General freight 118 47.2% 259,845 39.4% 0.3% $268,479 $257,232
Household goods 8 3.2% 16,293 2.5% -5.2%  $220,998 $229,977
Intermodal 8 3.2% 14,270 2.2% 6.0% $143,740 $144,238
Motor vehicles 8 3.2% 10,471 1.6% -3.4%  $251,744 $263,021
Packages/small shipments 4 1.6% 232,212 35.2% 7.2% $287,930 $298,583
Refrigerated 23 9.2% 31,902 4.8% 0.0% $235,211 $218,328
Tank/bulk commodities 37 14.8% 34,647 5.2% -7.7% $221,733 $218,504
 * Excludes outlying operations that likely would skew a segment’s figures for various reasons, such as their unusual scope or operating profile or the inclusion of revenues that is beyond either North America or transportation by truck.
** Based on companies that self-reported revenue data for both 2015 and 2016.

United Postal Service and FedEx (Nos. 1 & 2 in this year’s CCJ Top 250) alone combined for a $5.31 billion increase in operating revenues in 2016 vs. 2015, and fellow Top 250 segment companies DHL Americas and Spee Dee Delivery Service experienced similar gains, albeit on a smaller scale. The significance of the continued rise in e-commerce and related health of the package segment compared to the rest of the segments in the CCJ Top 250 cannot be understated. If you remove the 7.2 percent increase in revenues of those four package companies from the CCJ Top 250, year-over-year revenue growth for companies across all segments that self-reported revenues in both 2015 and 2016 would fall from 4.1 percent to 1.2 percent.

On a power unit basis, CCJ Top 250 fleets also shed trucks during the last year. The total truck and tractor count for the companies in the 2017 CCJ Top 250 totals 659,886 power units, a 2.9 percent decrease from 2016. Carriers in the flatbed/specialized/heavy haul segment accounted for just over 31,000 power units, a 29.8 percent decrease from the 2016 rankings. Only the tank/bulk commodities (3.7 percent), packages/small shipments (6.6 percent) and intermodal (8.2 percent) segments showed year-over-year growth in truck and tractor counts.

M&A activity slows in 2016

The industry saw relatively few mergers and acquisitions in 2016, but several certainly made an impact on this year’s list. Schneider (No. 8) kicked things off in June with the acquisition of final-mile delivery specialist Watkins & Shepard (No. 133 in last year’s CCJ Top 250), as well as Lodeso, a technology provider for the home delivery industry. The move will provide Schneider with new opportunities in the growing e-commerce business segment.

Also in June 2016, trucking conglomerate Transport Investments Inc. (No. 81) purchased former CCJ Top 250 company Jones Motor Group, a flatbed hauler with roots back to 1894 and believed to be the oldest carrier in the industry. The 500-truck acquisition brings TII’s independent contractor count to more than 1,400.

CRST International acquired Chino, Calif.-based regional truckload carrier Gardner Trucking (No. 67 in last year’s CCJ Top 250), complementing CRST’s business in drayage, warehousing, short-haul and local markets. The acquisition boosts CRST’s driver count from roughly 8,000 to 10,000, helping the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based carrier climb 10 spots to No. 13 this year.

XPO Logistics’ 2015 acquisition of Con-way led to a jump from No. 12 to No. 3 in last year’s CCJ Top 250 ranking. Just one year later, however, XPO sold the truckload portion of the Con-way business to TFI International (No. 7) – formerly known as TransForce – augmenting the Canadian carrier’s existing U.S.-based freight system with subsidiary Transport America. XPO’s divestiture was enough to vault Swift Transportation into the No. 3 spot on this year’s list, with XPO sliding to No. 4.

Speaking of Swift, both it and Knight Transportation (No. 25) still are listed as separate companies in this year’s ranking since the pending merger between the Phoenix-based trucking giants announced in April 2017 likely won’t take effect until later this year. When it does, the newly formed company, Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings, likely will lock down the No. 3 spot in next year’s ranking as the industry’s largest truckload carrier.

Other companies acquired in the first seven months of 2017 also don’t appear in this year’s list, including Wilson Trucking (No. 131 in last year’s CCJ Top 250), which was purchased by Waco, Texas-based Central Freight Lines (No. 90); Interstate Distributor Co. (No. 74 last year), acquired by Heartland Express (No. 28); and Estenson Logistics (No. 91 last year), acquired by Hub Group Trucking (No. 30).

Another absence from this year’s ranking comes not via acquisition but bankruptcy. Graebel Van Lines (No. 148 in last year’s CCJ Top 250), once one of North America’s largest household goods movers, announced in a letter posted on its website last March that it was ceasing operations immediately and liquidating assets to satisfy creditor liens. Roadrunner Transportation Services also is absent in this year’s CCJ Top 250 ranking due to an ongoing investigation into accounting discrepancies at two RRTS subsidiaries dating back to 2015. As of this writing, RRTS has yet to file updated 10-K forms with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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Jeff Crissey is the Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. In his role, Crissey is responsible for maintaining the excellent print editorial product, improving online audience development and increasing CCJ readers' knowledge of business and safety-related industry issues. Crissey holds a Bachelor's Degree from Auburn University and has been a member of Randall-Reilly Publishing's editorial staff for 14 years, where his coverage of industry topics has earned numerous regional and national awards over the years.