Indicators: Trailer orders ‘resilient’ despite economic slowdown, truck tonnage flat

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Updated Mar 21, 2019

CCJ‘s Indicators rounds up the latest reports on trucking business indicators on rates, freight, equipment, the economy and more.

February’s flat tonnage seen as a positive

The American Trucking Associations’ monthly Truck Tonnage Index, a measure of the amount of freight moved by for-hire carriers, fell by two-tenths of a percent in February. Bob Costello, chief economist for ATA, called the small dip a “pleasant surprise,” due to mounting economic headwinds.

“I continue to expect tonnage to moderate like other indicators, including retail sales, manufacturing activity and housing starts. Additionally, the level of inventories throughout the supply chain have increased, which is a drag on truck freight.”

Compared with February 2018, the tonnage was  up 5.4 percent.

Trailer orders hold tight despite stalling growth

Trailer orders in February dipped 9 percent from January and were down 27 percent from last February, according to FTR’s monthly report on trailer order activity.

However, the trailer market is performing above expectations, given the recent slowdown in economic growth, says FTR’s Don Ake.

“The decent February order volumes mean that backlogs should only decline modestly during March,” he said. “The trailer market continues to show surprising resilience despite the moderation in economic and freight growth. The current strength of the trailer market is good news for the general economy. It indicates fleets expect sturdy freight demand to continue throughout 2019.”

Trailer makers have few build slots remaining for 2019, FTR says, and dry van fleets in particular are grabbing build slots with OEs despite their historical brand preference. Trailer orders for the past 12 months now total 386,000.