Sign of a Rebound: More Trucks on the NJ Turnpike

They barrel down the highway, their hulking frames dwarfing small cars and sending out a windy wake that leaves automobile drivers gripping their steering wheels.

Trucks are a fixture of the American highway. Or at least they were until the Great Recession d

Trucks on roadway.
Trucks on roadway.

epleted their numbers as economic activity collapsed.

It may be just anecdotal, but it feels like the trucks are rumbling back, and that's almost certainly a good sign for the economy.

In the last several weeks, it seems to me that there are more trucks on the major highways (at least in New Jersey). However, they are not just New Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania registered trucks. They are from places like Tennessee, Indiana, Montreal, North Carolina and Maine.

There are big over-the-road trucks. They are not just making deliveries to grocery stores, or local businesses. There are more car carriers. There are trucks moving sheet rock, furniture and flooring materials. There are tankers. There are piggybacking UPS trucks.

CNBC's Mad Money Host Jim Cramer even talked about the increase of trucks on the highways of Jersey on his show Wednesday night. He told me today that all types of things are being shipped, including building materials.

This morning I counted them, or at least counted trucks versus cars on the northern end of the western spur of the New Jersey turnpike.

For about every five or so cars, there appeared to be at least one big truck during rush hour.

Maybe it’s that there are fewer cars, with drivers taking mass transit or carpooling because of higher gasoline prices. But there sure were a lot of trucks, and there have been plenty of moments on the turnpike lately when I’ve felt like I was being run, or blown, off the road by them.

FedEx might have provided some clues. FedEx, when it released earnings Thursday, said expensive fuel was driving customers from air freight to trucks.

But that doesn't really explain it because FedEx doesn’t ship the types of things showing up on many of the trucks whizzing along the turnpike.

The focus on FedEx earnings was really all about its outlook. It said it sees below trend growth globally and a mild recession in Europe.

“Their ground business (in the U.S.) actually did so well, I don’t think anyone even asked about it” on the earnings call, said Edward Jones analyst Matt Collins.

Collins agrees more trucks are rolling on U.S. highways. “I really think that’s an effect of the U.S. economy picking up,” he said.

"Their U.S. ground business has been doing very well and that shows up in your anecdotal observation that there’s more trucks on the road. You’ve got housing picking up, retail picking up,” Collins said.

Follow Patti Domm on Twitter: @pattidomm

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