Top dog spots shadow of debt

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Unlike Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil, Bill Zollars didn’t see his own shadow this week.

Instead, what the CEO of YRC World Inc., took a good long look at was the shadow of a giant $1.36-billion debt looming over his company.

However, while the two (increasingly tiresome) groundhogs are signaling for more chilly weather, the YRC boss — to the surprise of many industry watchers — is predicting a thawing of his debt problems, perhaps as soon as February.

Debt consolidation, he hopes, will end speculation that YRC was facing bankruptcy. Zollars also voiced some — dare we utter the phrase — mild optimism that the long dark season of empty LTL miles might be coming to an end.

He suggested to U.S. media that the industry-wide slump in volumes could be hitting bottom. "Believe me,” he was quoted as saying, “we’re looking really hard for any sign of improvement. The percentage declines year-over-year have started to stabilize.”

Still, Zollars noted that the economy "definitely decelerated" in the fourth quarter, adding that YRC’s freight volumes "progressively weakened" each month. But, he said, the trend "looks like it has stabilized" since the end of the year, particularly when adjusted for poorer weather conditions this winter.

YRC isn’t planning for an economic recovery in 2009 and still assumes freight volumes will be down overall from 2008 levels.

The company’s net loss came in at $244.4 million, or $4.14 a share, compared with a year-earlier net loss of $735.8 million, or $12.99 a share.

In other news, all the official groundhogs did not see their shadows on February 2, presaging six more weeks of winter — just in case anyone actually cares.

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