USA Truck CEO John Simone: Turnaround Plan Is Working

USA Truck Inc. CEO John Simone said Tuesday that the company's progress in the third quarter was a sign the management’s turnaround plan was working.

Simone, speaking at the Stephens 2013 Fall Investment Conference at the New York Palace Hotel, said his company's resurgence was for real. Last month, the Van Buren trucking company reported a narrower third-quarter loss on revenue that has risen 13.5 percent to $141.8 million.

"Operational improvements we have achieved are not a one-time phenomenon," Simone said on Tuesday. "They are repeated and sustainable. We have more drivers and better asset productivity. Our turnaround plan has gained momentum in each of the last three quarters."

USA Truck is currently trying to fight off a takeover attempt by rival Knight Transporation Inc of Phoenix. Knight has offered $242 million -- $9 share and the assumption of $147 in debt -- but USA Truck says the offer undervalues the company.

On Tuesday, Simone and CFO Cliff Beckham declined to take questions regarding Knight's takeover bid and USA Truck's subsequent lawsuit against Knight, which accuses Knight of breach of contract.

"Please note that we can't take any questions about the proposed offer from Knight Transportation and associated litigation," Simone said during the event, which was broadcast online. "Both of these are board matters and we'd like to focus on questions about our performance and our outlook."

Company performance has been a key point in the back-and-forth between the two firms. On Nov. 4, Knight publicly released a presentation that criticized USA Truck's rising share price as being unsupported and said the company's fundamentals had shown "limited improvement."

USA Truck shares had been trading at less than $6 a share before Knight made its offer public at the end of September. Since then, shares have traded above $14. They were trading at around $13.30 per share on Tuesday.

Knight owns a little more than 1.3 million shares of USA Truck, or about 12.4 percent. USA Truck has a Shareholders' Rights Plan that goes into effect if an individual or company buys more than 15 percent of the company's outstanding shares.

But on Tuesday, Simone continued to press USA Truck's effort at improving itself.

"We have done a significant amount of work and we still have a lot of work to do," he said. "We are moving at a quick pace. I would say we are still in the early innings."