ACT Research: Freight Cycle Poised to Enter New Stage in 2024

U.S. freight cycle fundamentals will improve in 2024, according to the latest release of ACT Research’s Freight Forecast, U.S. Rate and Volume Outlook report. Freight demand is below trend but starting to recover as post-pandemic effects fade. Both real disposable incomes and retail sales are accelerating, and disruptions in ocean shipping are likely catalyzing the end of an 18-month destock.

“The new year begins with global shipping in turmoil, import freight shifting from east to west and for-hire demand on the long side of a two-plus-year downturn,” Tim Denoyer, vice president and senior analyst at ACT Research, said. “Changing ocean and inventory dynamics support an upturn in freight demand, particularly intermodal, where we raise our rate forecasts this month.”

Global ocean shipping disruptions will likely add to air and land freight movements in 2024, according to ACT Research. The two primary routes from Asia to the U.S. East Coast have been severely impacted by conflict in the Red Sea and low water in the Panama Canal. This is pressing freight to West Coast ports, where the intermodal network will likely experience strong demand, which will eventually flow into the truckload market.

“Real retail sales recently turned positive after a year of declines, and after 18 months of destocking, a restock is drawing near, spurred by ocean risks. Supply dynamics are also shifting as 2024 begins, setting up a new stage of the cycle. While partly temporary, the mid-January cold-related slowdown in rail volumes is already sparking truckload spot activity,” Denoyer said.

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