Markets have cooled across the board over the past few weeks: Volumes are softer, capacity is looser, rates are lower. But these have all been low-magnitude moves off an extraordinarily high base. The national average dry van truckload spot rate fell by 1% compared to last week, for instance, but is still at $2.86/mile, including fuel.
Carriers still hold pricing power in this market, and shippers have by and large switched from a strategy of controlling cost to ensuring service. We think that markets will reheat in the last week of October, the traditional onset of peak retail season. High imports and low inventory levels imply higher demand for truckload moves to reposition goods.
We don’t think we’re going out on a limb by calling for a hot peak season: More difficult to determine is how long exactly this rally will last.
Some analysts — such as Jack Atkins at Stephens — believe that constraints at commercial driver schools, now running at an estimated 57% capacity, will extend the truckload rally longer than many realize. On J.B. Hunt’s earnings call, Shelley Simpson said that Hunt was experiencing elevated costs across its network and would wait until deeper into peak season before having specific pricing conversations with customers.
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