‘Trucking Conditions’ skid to a negative reading for the first time in years

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

‘Trucking Conditions’ skid to a negative reading

For the first time since a rocky 2016 and, before that, the lingering economic effects of the 2008-2009 Great Recession, FTR’s monthly Trucking Conditions Index has fallen into negative territory, signaling a swift softening in the underlying market conditions for carriers since early fall 2018.

FTR points to weaker rates and sluggish freight demand for the retreat in the index, which as recently as December hit double-digit positive territory, reflecting a robust market for carriers. The firm projects trucking conditions to waffle month to month into 2020.

“The trucking industry has essentially returned to neutral conditions as deterioration in most market factors are offsetting continued solid, but not robust, freight demand,” said Avery Vise, vice president of trucking at FTR. “We generally expect this balance to continue into 2020, but TCI readings could turn positive or negative month to month based on relatively minor shifts in demand, utilization, rates, or costs.”

Spot freight volume slipped in April

Freight volume on the spot market declined in all three major truckload segments in April, according to DAT’s monthly Truckload Freight Volume Index, due to the late arrival of the typical spring freight season.

“Spring came late to the spot market this year,” said DAT Senior Industry Analyst Mark Montague. “Late-season snowstorms in Minnesota and Colorado, as well as flood-related damage in and around Nebraska, led to delays in truck and rail traffic.”

Dry van freight volumes dipped 5 percent in April from March. However, available loads were up 2.4 percent from April 2018.

A delay in spring produce also contributed to a decline in demand for refrigerated equipment, with refrigerated volumes down 11 percent in April compared to March. That’s not a typical seasonal trend for April, which usually sees an uptick in reefer freight. The number of reefer loads posted to DAT’s board fell by 2.9 percent from last April.

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Flatbed was somewhat of the standout in April, despite a nine-tenths of a percent drop in freight volume from March. Year over year, flatbed volume was up 9.1 percent from April 2018.

“Overall freight availability remained high in April compared to recent years, despite the small seasonal decline,” Montague said. “As we head into peak season for spot market freight, we expect regional capacity shortages to emerge and boost rates higher through the end of the second quarter.”