December Class 8 orders lowest since September 2006

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Transportation forecasting firm FTR Associates reported that Class 8 net orders for December 2008 were even softer than estimated, totaling 8,649 units, the lowest level for orders since September 2006. FTR says orders for the three-month period – October, November and December 2008 – are running at an annualized rate of a meager 119,100 units, while Class 8 order backlogs fell to 52,703 units, with a backlog-to-retail sales ratio of 3.9 months, suggesting further reductions in production.

Order weakness remained in all geographic areas, but a noticeable decline in non-U.S. orders – Canada, Mexico and exports – suggests that there is significant downward pressure on the forecast for 2009, says Eric Starks, president of Nashville, Ind.-based FTR Associates. “In the last quarter of 2008, orders for non-U.S. markets came in at an annual rate of 19,080 compared to the current new factory shipments forecast of 40,231 units for Canada, Mexico and exports. This just adds to the already negative outlook for Class 8 production in 2009.”

FTR also reported that:

  • U.S. order activity seems to have stabilized – albeit at low levels – in the last four months of the year, with average order activity of 8,031 units, compared to 8,548 units in December.
  • Backlogs fell further to 52,703 units, the lowest level since early 2003.
  • Inventories fell by 3,377 units in December from November levels to a reading of 38,501 units, the lowest level seen since late 2004.
  • The inventory-sales ratio fell to a better reading of 2.4 months; the historical average is 1.8 months. With retail sales showing a healthy increase in December from November levels, this artificially dropped the I/S ratio. Expect the ratio to increase over the next several months as sales start to decline.
  • North American production stabilized in December with 13,214 units built, down only slightly from November levels of 13,872. However, November is when the industry saw a substantial drop in output, as build fell 26 percent from October levels. Further reductions in build are expected over the next several months.