Trucking industry making the slow climb back

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – While trucking conditions are improving, it will be some time before they get back to pre-Covid levels.

FTR expects U.S. truck loadings to decline 5.7% this year. It shared its latest insights during a State of Freight webinar on Key Issues in Transportation July 9. Avery Vise, vice-president of trucking with FTR, said the organization is anticipating truck loadings will climb 6% in 2021, but off low comparables posted this year.

(Source: FTR)

But, added Vise, “We can’t ignore the fact that real-time indicators of activity are pretty strong.” In fact, he added load availability hit a nearly two-year high two weeks ago, according to spot market data from loadboard Truckstop.com. Loads pulled back slightly last week due to the U.S. holiday, but remain strong.

Vise feels truck utilization has likely bottomed, but will take some time to catch up to the 10-year average of 91%, meaning capacity will continue to be readily available.

“There still seems to be a reasonable amount of capacity in the system to handle the freight demand we are getting,” Vise said. “We anticipate a steady improvement over the course of the next year.”

(Source: FTR)

The Covid Effect

Trucking’s recovery will depend largely on the Covid-19 pandemic and how well the U.S. is able to get it under control. New cases are surging, especially in California, Texas and Florida – three states that contribute significantly to the States’ overall GDP.

“We could potentially become paralyzed as a nation.”

Eric Starks, FTR

Eric Starks, CEO of FTR, said there has been plenty of debate internally over which stats have the greatest impact on the U.S. economy, but new cases are the metric he watches most closely. While the death rate is decreasing, the number of new cases continue to rise, as does the positive test rate, debunking any belief the rise in cases is related solely to an increase in testing.

“We could potentially become paralyzed as a nation,” Starks warned, if further economic shutdowns are required due to rising cases.

Unemployment a concern

The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 11.1% from its high of 14.7% in April. However, just this morning another 1.3 million Americans filed initial jobless claims for the week ending July 4.

“Even 16 weeks into this, we are still fairly close to double the record high of initial claims before the crisis,” said Vise, noting nearly 49 million Americans have filed initial jobless claims since the crisis began.

More than 18 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, up from a previous all-time high of 6.6 million, seasonally adjusted. Vise worries about what will happen when government subsidies stop flowing.

Trucking in June added back a seasonally adjusted 8,100 payroll jobs, but that’s “just a fraction of the jobs we lost in trucking in April and March,” Vise noted. Compared to February, U.S. payroll jobs in trucking are down by 86,600, or 5.7%.

The exception is the courier/messenger segment, which is up 6.7% compared to February thanks to increases in e-commerce. Vise pointed out it could be that unemployed truckers are taking those jobs, which could make it challenging to bring them back to traditional trucking jobs.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Yes COVID can be bad and kill you but it is over hyped and has been totally politicized. The entire shutdown of the country is nothing more than to get the Orange man out of the WH
    1) 40% of deaths have been nursing home residents in NY,NJ and PA where their governors insisted nursing facilities take sick patients
    2) in one state you can go to beach but stay in wet sand, another you have to stay in dry sand
    3) 1 state says 2 people per boat, while another says boats are fine if you are fishing for certain kinds of fish only. Really?
    4) President of Tanzania- who is actually a scientist- sent fake test of pawpaw’s, kare, goats, MOTOR OIL, guineas, and plantains for test – ALL CAME BACK COVID+
    5) 30 labs in FL and now 6 in TX have been caught only reporting + test – and multiple others have reported negative test to CDC- and they weren’t counted
    6) changing story on mask from Fauci and WHO- no they are not needed, yes they are, only if you are high risk, not needed- seriously? These people can’t make up their mind
    7) Fauci admitted mask are only to make you feel better
    8) we had over 65k deaths from regular flu before COVID – and yet since this started- less than 2k deaths from regular flu
    9) 65 kids under 18 died from regular flu this year – 6 from COVID
    BOTOM LINE – we have been played and it is nothing but politics and a power grab

  • A number of Trucking companies and private companies have got huge amounts of money from the government. Meanwhile minimum wage workers are at great risk.