Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It’s hard to remember an intermeeting period when less happened—where economic developments were more predictable and more stable— than this one. So I want to concentrate on a few pieces of information that I picked up during this period.
My Wal-Mart contact focused on the weak August sales in their stores. He conducted a survey of all Wal-Mart store managers to determine when schools in their communities opened. It turns out that a lot of schools open on a schedule that is tied to Labor Day and many do not. By comparing sales at stores in the two groups, he determined that the late Labor Day had a fair amount to do with the slow August sales that Wal-Mart reported. He estimated that the total impact was about 90 basis points; that is, August sales relative to August last year were reduced by almost 1 percentage point as a consequence of this pattern of school openings and the late Labor Day. I thought that was rather interesting, and of course, it may mean that September sales will be somewhat stronger.
The other comment that I thought was interesting—and this is not totally new—has to do with the transportation system. My trucking industry contact at J.B. Hunt said that his firm is not investing in any new capacity. Actually, the number of trucks is flat to down slightly. Margins
are not particularly good, so they’re not investing. A major difficulty is getting drivers. Nationally, as we know, a lot of trucking companies have gone out of business, and rail capacity is not expanding either. So he thought we might end up with some strains in the transportation of goods. Obviously, we know that the transportation of passengers is getting quite messed up as well because of all the airline bankruptcies. Those were the only two comments that I wanted to offer. My contacts said that things are rolling along about as anticipated and that business looks generally good. Thank you.