(Bloomberg) -- J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. plunged the most in three years after reporting surprisingly weak volume, spurring concerns that high inventory levels and a slow start to the spring shipping season could signal a broad economic slowdown.
Container freight carried on J.B. Hunt’s trucks fell 7 percent in the first quarter, although the reasons were many. Fierce snowstorms and historic flooding in the U.S. were factors. So, too, was the decision by CSX Corp., the largest railroad in the Eastern U.S., to drop less profitable routes for so-called intermodal cargo, typically consumer goods in metal containers that can be carried by ship, train and truck.
“The shortfall was also reflective of soft industry volume conditions in early 2019 that linger in 2Q19,” said Benjamin Hartford, an analyst at Robert W. Baird. He also expressed concern over “continued deceleration in contractual pricing growth with limited visibility to the timing of a trough.”
Investors and economists are concerned that a cargo decline may indicate a global slowdown that could ensnare the U.S. Such concerns were fueled by FedEx Corp. in March after the courier lowered its earnings forecast, citing sluggish international demand.
J.B. Hunt tumbled 3.8 percent to $101.52 at 10:22 a.m. in New York after dropping as much as 5.9 percent, the biggest intraday decline since August 2015. The stock declined the most in the S&P 500 industrials index and pulled trucking companies such as Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc.
Inventory levels have increased after U.S. companies rushed to import goods because of President Trump’s threat to impose more tariffs on Chinese goods. It will take time to work down those stockpiles, J.B. Hunt Chief Executive Officer John Roberts said on a Monday evening conference call with analysts after the company reported earnings.
“The volume growth will show up sometime in the third and fourth quarter,” he said. “The sales to inventory ratio has crept up a little bit and I think they need to bleed off some inventory here early in the second quarter.”
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