Indicators: Fleets cut jobs, rates stumble in August

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

August, traditionally a seasonally tough month for trucking, sandwiched between the year’s two peak freight seasons, saw a scaling back of payroll jobs in the for-hire trucking industry and a continued decline in spot market rates.

According to the Department of Labor’s monthly Employment Situation Report, trucking industry employment slipped by 4,500 jobs in August. That’s a preliminary figure based on payroll data, but if it stands, August’s jobs losses will be the largest month-to-month decline for trucking since April 2018 and the second-largest since June 2016.

Trucking bucked the larger trend of the U.S. economy, which added 130,000 jobs in the month, with the country’s unemployment rate holding at 3.7 percent.

Despite the decline, for-hire trucking has added nearly 70,000 jobs in a hiring spree that began in February 2017, according to Department of Labor data. Among major freight producing sectors in August, the construction industry added 14,000 jobs, according the DOL, while manufacturing added just 3,000.

Also in August, rates across all three major truckload segments continued a recent downward trend, according to monthly spot market rates data from

(Spot market rates data from market rates data from

Though the dips were in line with usual summer trends, it wasn’t just seasonality that snared rates in August, says Stephen Bindbeutel, an analyst at Freight demand — and rates — continue to feel the effects of a broader economic slowdown, uncertainty over the lingering trade war with China and a recent dip in manufacturing output, he says.

However, freight demand could pickup in September, Bindbeutel says, as companies try to get ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline for the next round of tariffs that President Trump intends to levy on Chinese-imported goods.

“We should see a short-term boost that should sustain us in September,” he said. “I think we’ll see a nice little push to get us through the fourth quarter and retail and holiday season.” That’s good for the short-term, says Bindbeutel, and could provide time for trade issues and other economic uncertainties to “be resolved and get back on track” heading into 2020.