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Rival trucking firm not interested in Celadon merger

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USA Truck Inc. has a message for Indianapolis-based trucking rival Celadon Group Inc.: Move along.

Celadon in mid-October announced it had acquired a 6.3-percent stake in the smaller, Van Buren, Ark.-based trucking company, and it asked for a meeting to discuss a potential "association" between the two companies.

USA Trucking declined the invitation to meet with Celadon executives, the company said in a statement paired with its earnings report on Friday. USA Trucking cited recent management changes and its "desire to remain focused on increasing value through operational improvements."

The company lost $4.3 million in the quarter ended Sept. 30, on revenue of $102.6 million.

Celadon CEO Steve Russell did not have an immediate reaction to USA Truck's refusal to meet. He told IBJ on Monday morning that Celadon’s board will meet this week to discuss the issue, and the company will have a public statement at that time.

Shares of USA Truck soared almost 20 percent on Oct. 11, rising as high as $9.76 each, after Celadon reported its share purchase. Before the Celadon acquisition, USA Truck's shares had been down 38 percent on the year.

The Indianapolis trucking company paid $4.7 million for 658,000 shares, making it USA Truck's seventh-largest investor, according to Bloomberg data.

USA Truck's shares were down in early trading Monday, to $8.17, still well below the 52-week high of $14.83.

Meanwhile, Celadon shares rose 2 percent, trading recently for $10.92.

An acquisition of USA Truck would be a departure from Celadon's historical acquisition strategy, which involves smaller, privately held carriers, Stifel Nicolaus analysts noted in an Oct. 12 report.

Celadon has a market value of $219 million, more than double USA Truck’s $102 million, Bloomberg data show.

Stifel said the deal could add $3 million, or about 13 cents per share, to Celadon's bottom line. The share purchase, Stifel said, reflects Celadon's view that shares of USA Truck were "underpriced given the age/condition of its equipment and the improving truckload industry fundamentals (provided that we do not enter a double dip recession)."

USA Truck employs 2,900 people, while Celadon has 3,500 employees.

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