It is good to be in trucking again as nearly all key performance indicators (KPIs) are at their healthiest levels in years. There was some seasonal giveback in operating ratios but this is to be expected. The bull market for freight is alive and well; the question is how long it will last. At this point, our answer is longer than we previously thought.
The medium-term outlook and visibility for freight — at least until many Americans are vaccinated (likely a second- or third-quarter 2021 event) — remain strong. We are mildly concerned about the potential headwind from an explosion in services demand that should transpire by Q4 2021, though mindful that this drag is likely tempered by the prospects for brisker economic growth and lower unemployment in 2021 (not to mention a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package).
Negotiating leverage still heavily favors the carriers due to tight capacity, and thus they can be choosy with respect to customers and fright selection, which has reduced deadhead mileage and increased yield.
The primary canary in the coal mine that could signal a premature end to the truckload bull market is new Class 8 orders, which have exploded and are running at multidecade highs. However, we would note that it takes six to nine months for delivery and, at least up to now, carriers have had tremendous difficulty seating trucks for a host of well-publicized reasons.
Spot rates and contract rates are starting to converge as the 2021 bid season ensues, and, were it not for all-time record-high spot rates in the aftermath of a nearly nationwide winter storm, we would expect contract rates to surpass spot rates shortly. Most large, publicly traded truckload companies’ management teams are calling for at least high-single-digit annual contract rate inflation in 2021. This should further improve carrier profitability, gradually ease tender rejections and improve routing guide compliance moving forward.
You have selected content that's only available to members of FreightWaves Passport. As a member, you gain immediate access to the most in-depth and informative freight research available. It's your gateway to continuing education.
Members also get:
- Access to exclusive community dedicated to discussing the most important challenges facing freight.
- Monthly and Quarterly Freight Market reports keeping you informed of industry trends.
- Much, much more!
Click below to learn more and sign up today!
Existing Passport subscribers may log in using the form below.