Thomas McLaughlin was nursing a glass of iced tea at the Iron Skillet restaurant in Oak Grove, Mo. Nearby, a robust buffet of ham, bacon and eggs was waiting for him.
Outside, a truck stop was advertising $2.52 diesel, down sharply in recent weeks.
Normally, a cool drink, hot food and cheaper fuel would brighten his day. But not last Wednesday.
The independent trucker took a sip of tea and explained there is something far worse than paying record-high fuel prices — having cheaper fuel but nothing to haul.
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“Diesel could be 25 cents a gallon, but if there is no freight it might as well be $250,” McLaughlin groused.
That, in a nutshell, is the flipside of crumbling fuel prices.
The steep declines of recent weeks may be a welcome boon for crimped household budgets. But they are another indicator of pervasive economic weakness. Few sectors are as economically sensitive as the transport industries that move products around the country.
The trucking industry has long been considered a reliable early indicator of where the economy is going. If so, we have a rough road ahead.
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