For-Hire Trucking Capacity Growth Rate on Path to Recovery

According to the latest release of ACT Research’s For-Hire Trucking Index, freight volumes and rates declined in February. Rate trends should begin to recover as soon as traction on freight volumes is established, and slower capacity growth this month is a hopeful sign the bottoming process is closer as fleets begin to respond to softer market conditions.

The Trucking Volume Index was in contraction territory for the eighth time in the last 11 months in February at 41.3 (SA) from 51.6 in January. Volumes remained soft amidst a market of mixed economic signals.

“The soft freight market persists as inflation continues to impact consumers’ purchasing power, and recent bank failures and job cuts make recession more likely,” Tim Denoyer, vice president and senior analyst at ACT Research, said.

Pricing Index weakness continues, decreasing 6.3 points, to 39.3 in February (SA) from 45.6 in January. This is only the fourth time in the index’s history that prices have been in the thirties.

“The cure for low prices is low prices, and we currently estimate spot rates are 16% below fleet operating costs, which should expedite this bottoming process,” Denoyer said. “Even as freight demand fundamentals will likely remain soft, seasonal increases in TL volumes as capacity slows and eventually tightens will build the bottom of the spot rate cycle in the next couple of months.”

The Capacity Index declined by 3.7 points month to month to 51.0 in February, indicating slower growth. Capacity has improved in terms of both equipment and drivers the past year, with improvements in the supply chain and as drivers have shifted to larger, well-capitalized fleets after the sharp fall in spot rates. While one month does not make a trend, slower capacity growth this month is a key sign the bottoming process is happening, as fleets begin to respond to softer market conditions. After rallying in January, the supply-demand balance reverted looser, falling to 40.1 (SA) in February from 47.0 in January, with the month to month declines in both volumes and capacity.

“The trucking market has been loose for a full year based on this series,” Denoyer said. “Though the loose environment is expected to persist in the near term, we expect less loosening from here.”

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