Truck Freight Market Ended 2023 With Double-Digit Drops In Volume and Spending

The U.S. truck freight market ended 2023 with further declines in both shipment volume and spending, according to the latest U.S. Bank Freight Payment Index. Compared to the same period in 2022, fourth quarter shipment volume was down 15.7% in 2023, while spending by shippers contracted 13.5%. The year-over-year drop in volume was the largest in the history of the index.

“The truck freight market is feeling the impacts of companies reducing inventories significantly as well as consumers continuing to spend more on experiences over goods,” Bob Costello, senior vice president and chief economist at the American Trucking Associations, said. “We’ll watch carefully in coming quarters if companies complete their inventory reduction efforts and begin to restock, which would help boost trucking.”

All regions in Q4/23 felt the slowdown in volume versus the same quarter in 2022, but it was most acute in the Southeast (-25.4%) and Northeast (-23.8%). Spending also dropped in all regions year over year, with the most significant drop in the Midwest (-17%).

“Throughout 2023, our index has consistently revealed significant declines in spending by shippers. While spending dropped again in the fourth quarter, we are seeing indications that might suggest trucking supply is coming into balance with demand,” Bobby Holland, director of freight business analytics at U.S. Bank, said.

National Data – Q4/23

Linked quarter: -10.9%
Year over year: -15.7%

Linked quarter: -1.4%
Year over year: -13.5%

Regional Data – Q4/23

Linked quarter: -2.9%
Year over year: -16.3%

Linked quarter: 0.2%
Year over year: -7.4%

The West was one of two regions to experience an increase in spending on a quarter-over-quarter basis, though spending by shippers was still down 7.4% compared to a year earlier. Improved West Coast import volumes may have helped the region’s shipment volumes, which were still down but less so than most other regions.

Linked quarter: -18.2%
Year over year: -15.9%

Third quarter: -2.7%
Year over year: -10.4%

After slowing in Q4/23, the Southwest truck freight market contracted significantly in Q4/23. The region, which was the best for truck freight in 2022 and the first half of 2023, experienced slower retail and home sales in the first half of the fourth quarter, which weighed on truck freight volumes.

Linked quarter: -8.6%
Year over year: -8.9%

Linked quarter: 1.2%
Year over year: -17%

Q4/23 Midwest shipment volumes contracted the least among all regions compared to Q4/22. Soft manufacturing, consumer spending and housing activity in the region have likely contributed to depressed freight volumes, which have persisted for the last few years.

Linked quarter: -9.4%
Year over year: -23.8%

Linked quarter: -2.5%
Year over year: -12.5%

The Northeast was one of the most challenged truck freight markets in 2023. Headwinds for the market included consumer spending moderation and manufacturing activity softening.

Linked quarter: -14.5%
Year over year: -25.4%

Linked quarter: -4.1%
Year over year: -11.4%

The Southeast had the largest year-over-year drop in volume among all regions. The region has had consistent volume contractions — as well as spending declines — in recent quarters.

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