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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / U.S. Xpress CEO Eric Fuller poses for a portrait at the company's headquarters on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

This story was updated at 6:11 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, with more information.

Shares of U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. jumped by more than 12% to the highest level in nine months Thursday after Chattanooga's biggest trucking company reported narrower losses in the fourth quarter than what analysts had expected.

U.S. Xpress lost $9.6 million, or 5 cents per share, on operating revenues of $449.6 million in the fourth quarter. A year earlier, U.S. Xpress earned nearly $7 million, or 39 cents per share, on sales of $469.2 million.

Despite the losses in the last three months of the year, the results were ahead of the Zacks consensus estimate of a loss of 10 cents per share. As a result, shares of U.S. Xpress, which had declined by 22.5% in the past year ahead of Thursday's earnings report, jumped by 69 cents per share to close at $6.27 per share. The closing price was the highest for U.S. Xpress since last May in trading on the Nasdaq Exchange.

The better-than-expected results were contrary to the previous quarter when analysts had expected the company to earn 7 cents a share, but it reported a 3 cents per share loss.

U.S. Xpress President Eric Fuller said the company "made significant progress advancing our strategic initiatives focused on delivering improved efficiency," but he said he still expects "slow growth in industry-wide truckload shipments" in the year ahead.

"Our fourth quarter results were impacted by the continued challenging market conditions experienced through much of 2019, posing a headwind to our financial results," Fuller said in the fourth quarter report. "Despite the market backdrop, I am very encouraged with the many successes that our team achieved this past year."

Fuller said the first quarter is usually the weakest in the trucking industry, but he said "we continue to believe that market conditions will improve in the back half 2020" as total truckload capacity shrinks in response to market conditions.

Operating revenues for U.S. Xpress declined by $19.6 million, or 4.2%, in the fourth quarter of 2019 compared with a year earlier. Much of that decline was due to the company's exit from the Mexican market last year.

For all of 2019, adjusted earnings for U.S. Xpress totaled $6.2 million, or 12 cents per share, on more than $1.7 billion in revenues. In 2018, the company 's adjusted earnings totaled $48.1 million, or 83 cents per share, on revenues of more than $1.8 billion.

"One area of focus is to continue to engineer the company to provide for a future of advanced technology, automation and high optimization," Fuller said. "Our team has made real strides digitizing our systems to reduce the number of manual decisions made on a daily basis. We also made strong progress in our goal of delivering a 'frictionless order.'"

Founded in 1985, U.S. Xpress is the nation's fifth largest asset-based truckload carrier with about 6,700 trucks and 9,000 employees across the country.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340

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