Carrier optimism may be peaking

TORONTO — A record number of Ontario carriers are optimistic about prospects for the trucking industry, but it’s only a slight uptick from the second quarter.

In the Ontario Trucking Association’s third quarter 2010 Business e-Pulse Survey, 73 percent of the carriers who completed the survey said they were optimistic about the trucking industry’s overall prospects for the next three months.

It’s an improvement of more than 20 percentage points since the beginning of the year and its highest level since OTA began conducting the quarterly survey of its members in the third quarter of 2008. But it’s only a one-percent rise from the survey results back in May.

The latest survey was conducted electronically between July 12 – 29, and this time around only 2 percent of respondents indicated they were pessimistic. In the second quarter survey, 10 percent of respondents were pessimistic.

In the previous five quarters optimism had jumped from 27 percent to 72 percent, so a one percent jump this time around has the OTA thinking optimism in the industry might have peaked.

The association figures this may be, in part, by ongoing concerns over the slowing pace of recovery in the U.S. Only 25 percent of respondents said that southbound U.S. freight volumes had improved over the past three months, compared to 56 percent for intra-Ontario freight, 53 percent for interprovincial volumes and 50 percent for northbound U.S. freight. Fifteen percent of respondents — at least four times the proportion of any of the other freight corridors — said that southbound U.S. volumes had actually decreased.

Overall, in all markets combined, 63 percent of the carriers said that volumes were up compared to a year ago, while 47 percent reported growth in excess of 5 percent.

The proportion reporting that loaded miles are increasing jumped to 40 percent in this quarter, compared to 35 percent and 16 percent, respectively in the previous two quarterly surveys.

The improvement in volume appears not to have translated into significant improvement in the rates. While in each of the regional corridors a majority (54 – 59 percent) characterized the current rate environment as about the same, the southbound U.S. market is still the laggard with 30 percent of the respondents saying the rate environment in that market is worsening.

By comparison, 39 percent said rates in the northbound U.S. market were improving. This is a trend that the industry has been seeing for several quarters now.

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