NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Just like the rest of us, transport companies have to pay more at the pump when oil and gas prices rise.
But unlike the rest of us, many of those firms can pass the buck to somebody else, meaning their profits don't suffer much, according to some analysts.
Both gas and crude oil prices have set records in recent weeks, driven by strong demand, fears about supply disruptions and capacity constraints that make it tougher for countries like Venezuela to pump more oil and companies like Exxon Mobil (XOM: Research, Estimates) to turn that oil into gasoline.
While higher prices are a boon to producers of oil and gas, they're a real bane for consumers, and that includes companies in the business of moving people and stuff from place to place.
Still, many of these transport companies have the advantage of passing the higher costs further up the food chain to their customers, according to a recent note by Morningstar analyst Nicolas Owens.
"Consumers generally pay the price for higher fuel costs -- and not just at the pump," Owens wrote.
Airlines are the glaring exception to this rule, according to Owens and other analysts, making higher fuel costs particularly unwelcome to Delta Air Lines (DAL: Research, Estimates) and US Airways Group (UAIR: Research, Estimates), both already teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
"We would only expect a sharp rise in fuel prices to harm the long-term prospects or viability of the most financially strapped and uncompetitive operators," Owens wrote.
Discount carriers such as Southwest Airlines (LUV: Research, Estimates), JetBlue Airways (JBLU: Research, Estimates) and AirTran Holdings (AAI: Research, Estimates) are in far better financial shape and have been able to hedge against higher prices, Owens said.
Southwest's hedging technique, for example, will let it pay the equivalent of just $24 per barrel for oil for 80 percent of its fuel in 2004, compared with a price of more than $40 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
And shares of all three discount carriers have risen fairly steadily since mid-March, basically ignoring the relentless surge in oil prices.
Truckers roll on
Unlike airlines, large trucking firms are able to charge their customers for fuel, which can make up 10 to 15 percent of a trucker's total costs, according to Owens.
Smaller firms and independent contractors who get paid flat fees will suffer from higher prices, but bigger firms such as JB Hunt Transport Services (JBHT: Research, Estimates), Swift Transportation (SWFT: Research, Estimates) and Werner Enterprises (WERN: Research, Estimates) have fuel surcharges they can adjust in a matter of days or weeks to keep up with gushing crude prices.
"It's not an ideal situation for truckload carriers, but they all very actively use fuel surcharge programs, which customers accept as a part of the freight agreement," said Douglas Col, a trucking analyst with Morgan, Keegan & Co. "If fuel is high but stable, the surcharges are very effective, capturing 80 to 85 percent of the total fuel cost."
Though the price-to-earnings ratio for these trucking firms is a little swollen, the forward-looking P/E ratios are much more reasonable, since expected strong demand will likely keep earnings growing strong, according to Col.
Big delivery services such as UPS (UPS: Research, Estimates) and FedEx (FDX: Research, Estimates) are also able to get fuel surcharges out of their bigger customers.
Even logistics companies such as Expeditors International (EXPD: Research, Estimates) and CH Robinson Worldwide (CHRW: Research, Estimates), who don't own their own trucks and have to pay the surcharges to the JB Hunts, Swifts and Werners of the world are still able to pass the surcharges down to their own customers.