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Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index is down 1.5 percent in February

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
March 09, 2011

The February edition of the Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index (PCI) dipped 1.5 percent, following a 0.3 drop-off in January. This cumulative decline washed out a 1.8 percent gain in December, according to the report’s authors.

The index has been down on a sequential basis in five of the last seven months.

The PCI, according to Ceridian and UCLA, is based on an analysis of real-time diesel fuel consumption data from over-the-road trucking and is tracked by Ceridian, a provider of electronic and stored value card payment services. The PCI data is accumulated by analyzing Ceridian’s electronic card payment data that captures the location and volume of diesel fuel being purchased by trucking companies. It is based on real-time diesel fuel purchases using a Ceridian card by over the road truckers at more than 7,000 locations across the United States.

The PCI also closely tracks the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production data as well as GDP growth.

“The PCI performance in the first two months of this year suggests weakness in some parts of the economy,” said Ed Leamer, chief PCI economist and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, in a statement. “Nevertheless, our outlook for 2011 is for continued economic recovery – we expect GDP to grow at the historically “normal” rate of 3 percent, accompanied by a persistent level of high unemployment.”

The PCI is up 1.8 percent compared to February 2010, marking the 15th straight month of annualized growth. Several of the annual growth months in 2010 were up against weak 2009 comparisons.

The report said economic recovery is expected throughout the remainder of the year, calling for GDP growth to be at the low end of current forecasts between 2 percent and 5.5 percent, with Industrial Production data expected to be down 0.2 percent, when it is published later this month.

Even though diesel prices saw a significant run-up in February, which is still happening, the report indicated that this rise did not have a material impact on the PCI. But it added should prices continue to go up at this current pace it will have an impact, as higher fuel prices translate into increased costs for consumers.

“Higher fuel prices impact business profitability and how consumers respond will be interesting,” said Todd Dooley, Ceridian senior vice president of finance, in an interview. “When profitability is impacted, it forces businesses to take cost containment actions of some kind. From a consumer standpoint, higher fuel prices means you spend more of what you take home or spend less on other consumables. This suggests the economy is slow, as higher fuel prices will have a zapping effect on consumers’ purchasing power, which will translate back into the economy.”

Compared to a year ago, when the economy was coming off the lows of 2009 and reaping the benefits of easy annual comparisons and inventory re-stocking, the good news today is that the economy is still growing annually off the baselines of 2010, noted Dooley. And the ability to retain those annual gains and build off them is a positive sign for economic growth, he said, although annual comparisons are not seeing the same growth levels that they did last year.

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About the Author

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Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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