Survey: Trucking conditions improved slightly in February

By Avery Vise on

Overall business conditions in February appeared slightly better than those in January even though many trucking executives believe the economy still isn’t improving fast enough. Those were among the findings in the latest Randall-Reilly MarketPulse survey of for-hire trucking executives. Nearly 31% of executives said conditions were better, and less than 14% said business was worse. In addition, the Carrier Sentiment Index, which measures executives’ perception of the current month against the all-time best month, edged slightly higher to 6.07 from 5.85 in January.

About 54% of carriers expect business conditions to be better in six months, adjusting for seasonality. Only about 5% expect conditions to be worse. About 44% plan to replace aging equipment without changing fleet size over the next six months while 36% plan to grow their fleets. Larger carriers — those with more than 100 power units — were slightly more inclined to both add and replace than smaller carriers.

Driver availability remains the top concern with more than 42% of trucking executives selecting it as their top worry. Freight pricing, fuel costs and cash flow were a greater concern for smaller carriers than for larger ones. Despite a run-up in diesel prices during February, the political climate in Washington edged out fuel costs as fourth in the list of carriers’ top worries.

February’s survey included additional questions related to health care programs. More than 56% percent reported that health care costs (including workers comp) rose by 10% or more during 2012. Only 27% believe their organizations know the requirements of the Affordable Care Act completely or very well, and nearly a third say their companies know the requirements a little or not at all.

Selected quotes
“There continues to be way too much risk for the possible financial reward. The only good thing about that is that not a lot of people with smarts want to get into this business right now.”

“Very bullish on the industry and our prospects for growth. Biggest challenges we have is covering the freight that we have.”

“Uncertainty relating to the political climate and sequestration continues to stifle growth potential. Still no groundswell of economy across the board. Industries are spotty as to activity. Hope things get settled down soon, but doesn’t look like it.”

“The landscape will change and companies under 50 employees will be able to scrap their insurance plans and send their employees to the exchange, where many will get subsidies. As I see it, the smaller trucking companies have been handed a pretty large competitive advantage.”

The Randall-Reilly MarketPulse survey canvasses a standing panel of senior for-hire trucking executives each month, allowing for a reliable directional assessment of industry conditions despite a relatively small sample of a little more than 100 respondents. A copy of the full February MarketPulse report, which included 111 senior executives of for-hire trucking companies, is available at no additional cost to subscribers of Randall-Reilly’s TruckGauge by clicking here or for $95 at www.rrmarketpulse.com.

Avery Vise

Avery Vise is executive director, trucking research and analysis for Randall-Reilly Business Media and also serves as senior editor, industry analysis for Commercial Carrier Journal. Previously, he was editorial director of Randall-Reilly’s Fleet/Dealer/Aftermarket group and had served as chief editor of CCJ for 10 years. From 1985 to 1998, Vise worked for McGraw-Hill’s Aviation Week Group, covering Congress and the Department of Transportation for publications about the commercial aviation industry. He has received numerous awards from American Business Media and the American Society of Business Publication Editors for his coverage of the trucking industry. Vise is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with degrees in government and history.

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