Truck maker Paccar's first-quarter earnings climbed more than 50 percent amid rising freight levels and surging truck sales. Paccar reported a profit...

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Truck maker Paccar’s first-quarter earnings climbed more than 50 percent amid rising freight levels and surging truck sales.

Paccar reported a profit of $274 million, and sales of $3.3 billion — a 32.9 percent rise — during the quarter.

The Bellevue company, which produces trucks under the Kenworth and Peterbilt brands, reported quarterly earnings yesterday before the start of its annual meeting at Meydenbauer Center.

The company earned $1.56 a share, beating analysts’ expectations of $1.49 a share, according to Thomson Financial.

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As the economy has recovered, demand has grown for consumer goods. Higher freight volumes and increased truck sales are the result.

Trucks hauled 9.8 billion tons of freight in the country last year, a 7.7 percent increase over 2003, according to the American Trucking Associations, an Alexandria, Va.-based trade association.

Trucks carry nearly 70 percent of all freight shipped in the country, said Bob Costello, the group’s chief economist.

After delaying truck orders during the recession, fleet and independent operators are replacing older vehicles to meet rising demand.

Last year, Paccar sold 58,954 trucks under the Kenworth and Peterbilt brands, a 65.7 percent increase from 2003. During the first quarter, Paccar sold 13,957 trucks, according to WardsAuto.com, a Detroit company that tracks the auto industry.

Paccar projects heavy-duty truck sales in North America to rise 15 percent over 2004. Medium-duty trucks are expected to improve slightly, company President Tom Plimpton said.

Although truck suppliers have not been able to keep up with demand, Paccar doesn’t expect growth to slow this year. The company and many of its suppliers have been investing in more efficient processing and increased capacity, Chairman Mark Pigott said during a conference call with analysts.

At the company’s annual meeting, two shareholder resolutions were proposed: one to elect directors annually and another to elect directors by a majority vote. Both were defeated.

“Elections for the board of directors should be meaningful, and now that’s not the case,” said Doug Kilgore, executive director of the Worker Owner Council of Washington State, which presented the majority vote proposal.

“So long as one share gets voted for a candidate, they get elected.”

The Sheet Metal Workers National Pension Fund sponsored the proposal.

John Fluke Jr., Stephen Page and Michael Tembreull were re-elected as directors for three-year terms.

Also yesterday, the company declared a quarterly dividend of 21 cents a share to shareholders of record as of May 19.

The stock dividend will be paid June 6.

Paccar’s shares closed down $1.35 at $67.18 yesterday.

Kristina Shevory: 206-464-2039 or kshevory@seattletimes.com