United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS), the world's largest package delivery company, said on Tuesday it plans to hire nearly 70,000 temporary workers to help handle an estimated 340 million packages from Thanksgiving to Christmas, exceeding year-ago forecasts.

A UPS spokeswoman declined to say how many packages were delivered in the 2003 holiday season. However, the company had said last year it planned to hire 50,000 seasonal workers for an estimated 300 million packages during the period, which had two less delivery days than this year's season.

UPS, which is often used as a gauge of economic health because it handles 6 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, plans to add more than 7,000 vehicles and two dozen large jets to its fleet to handle the holiday demand. Last year the company added the same number of vehicles but only one dozen large jets.

The Atlanta-based company, known for its brown delivery trucks, expects its busiest day to be Dec. 21 with estimated deliveries of about 20 million air and ground packages.

For air deliveries, Dec. 22 will be its "peak day," with an anticipated global volume of about 5 million packages — about 2.5 times the normal average.

Online shopping will drive some of UPS' anticipated package volumes during the holiday season. The company, citing a poll by Forrester Research of 12,000 online buyers, showed 57 percent of men and 53 percent of women primarily use UPS. Forrester forecasts online holiday sales will rise by 20 percent over 2003, to $13.2 billion.

Stocks of transport companies, including UPS and rival FedEx Corp. (FDX), have climbed to fresh 52-week highs amid record volumes, driven in part by a surge in shipping to and from Asia and U.S. economic growth.

UPS touched a fresh 52-week high of $82.90 on the New York Stock Exchange (search), before edging down 50 cents to $81.80 shortly after midday.