The official numbers won't be in for a few more weeks, but early indications are that the 2002 Christmas retail selling season was one of the worst in 30 years, with sales rising between 1% and 2% -- far below predictions of 4% to 6% back in September.
Wal-Mart Stores, the nation's largest retailer, said its sales are expected to be up only 2% to 3%, well below initial projections of 3% to 5% earlier this fall.
Other economic indicators were mixed heading into the final days of 2002. The Commerce Dept. said durable good orders fell 1.4% in November after rising 1.7% in October. Orders for capital goods, such as computers and machine tools, dropped 2.2% in November as well.
However, sales of new homes jumped 5.7% in November as low mortgage rates continue to fuel demand. Construction of new homes remains strong as well, which is good new for trucking operations that transport lumber and other supplies to the construction industry.
Another potential bright spot for trucking is the low inventory levels in many sectors of the U.S. economy. Inventories fell 0.2% in November, meaning that any sudden uptick in sales would quickly drive up production levels and increase freight demand for transporting those goods to consumers, say experts.