The rate of decline in contracted truckload volumes is slowing, while brokers slash spot rates to carriers, widening their margins on fewer loads.

The good news is that the parts of the economy that need to be shut down have, for the most part, already been shut down. We think that any significant further downside risk will come from credit and business risk as many shippers, perhaps especially retailers, undergo financial stress-tests like they’ve never seen.

That financial stress has already brought negative volatility into contract rate markets: we’ve seen emails from retailers asking their contracted carriers for 15% rate cuts.

At this point it’s perhaps unnecessary to point out that very low rates and very low volumes will accelerate the exit of trucking capacity from freight markets. The highly fragmented lower end of the trucking industry, consisting of small carriers with 6 or fewer trucks, will be ineffectively served by federal economic relief measures, in our view.

There is some evidence that as volumes have pulled back, available freight is becoming more concentrated in the five or six largest outbound markets in the country, which makes sense given how widespread demand growth was in last month’s rally. 

We will follow up on the concentration hypothesis in Friday’s Special Topics report.

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