Fuel purchases show where economy is headed

LOS ANGELES — Look in the rear-view mirror. Check out what’s catching up to the trucking industry.

Yes, that’s right. It’s the rest of the economy!

Folks in trucking have known for years that the business is a leading indicator, but now a group of researchers in California based out of University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Anderson School of Management has figured out how to use that very information to make money.

What’s more, they’re using your fuel purchases to do so.

The researchers learned they can predict the ups and downs of the national economy, by tracking credit-card fuel purchasing patterns the way a hunter reads bear spoor.

In partnership with the fuel-card people Ceridian, the researchers produce the Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index (PCI), which can anticipate and track the federal economy by tracking OTR fuel purchases.

“Every day … over-the-road trucks purchase diesel fuel as they move goods ranging from produce to raw materials to finished products," a Ceridian-UCLA PCI promotional video explains.

“If one could capture and analyze the volume of fuel purchased by these vehicle that data would tell a compelling story about the status of the U.S. economy.”

On an hour-by-hour basis, the PCI captures data about movement in the construction, farming, development and retail sectors.

The online magazine Slate wrote about the new index, and described the discovery of the tool thusly:

“Professor Ed Leamer of UCLA, who helped create the index, had a "Eureka!" moment when he looked at the points of purchase on the map overlaid on the Interstate Highway System. "I said, oh my god, we have sensors at 7,000 locations on all the interstates. What could be better than that?" 

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