Survey: Trucking conditions largely unchanged in April

Business conditions in trucking barely changed in April from March, according to the latest Randall-Reilly MarketPulse survey of trucking conditions. Nearly half — 48% — of the MarketPulse panel of for-hire trucking executives reported that business conditions were the same while 32% said business was better and 20% said conditions were worse. The experience for larger carriers was even choppier as 36% reported better conditions but 23% said things were worse. Carriers’ rating of the month on a 1 to 10 scale compared with the best month ever dipped to 6.22 with smaller carriers reporting no change and larger carriers reporting a slightly weaker month overall.

About 55% of carriers expect business conditions to be better in six months, adjusting for seasonality. Approximately 44% plan to replace aging equipment without changing fleet size over the next six months while 37% plan to grow their fleets. Driver availability remains the top concern with nearly 54% of trucking executives selecting it as their biggest worry. While still the No. 1 concern, driver availability wasn’t as big of an issue for smaller carriers as it was for larger ones. Freight pricing was a greater concern for smaller than for larger ones.

April’s survey included additional questions related to major macro trends affecting trucking and to the effect of environmental regulation, especially in California. From a list of five major business trends, executives identified demographic challenges as most important followed closely by environmental concerns. Among those trucking companies that do not operate in California, 57% said that the state’s environmental regulation of heavy-duty trucks was either the primary reason or a contributing factor in the decision not to operate in the state.

Selected quotes
“Not sure how, but shippers are still able to get freight moved for prices that are keeping a lot of companies from making a decent return on invested capital.”

“Freight appears to have leveled off. A little concerned because in the second quarter we are normally increasing in volume.”

“Freight is positive, but capacity is not challenged. This is what happens when the political climate in Washington is what it is with no budget cuts, no balanced budget and more taxes. You get mediocre business climate.”

“April has been a little soft. We have enough work but we aren’t being “pushed.”

“We have had a much better than expected first quarter, and April is better than usual. News and conversations with peers continues to make us uncertain and cautious.”

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 about 115 respondents. The April 2013 MarketPulse report is available at no additional cost to subscribers of Randall-Reilly’s TruckGauge by clicking here or for $95 at www.rrmarketpulse.com.