Carriers predict better days ahead in latest OTA business conditions survey

by Truck News

TORONTO, Ont. — The  results of the Ontario Trucking Association’s second quarter 2016 business conditions survey were revealed today and it seems that economic uncertainty isn’t getting Ontario carriers down as they are reasonably optimistic for the future.

The survey showed that a majority of carriers (55%) remain optimistic about the trucking industry prospects over the next quarter, although that’s 14 points lower than the previous survey.  The 18% who said they were pessimistic about market conditions is relatively low, but also the highest level in three years.

Freight volumes
The OTA said the survey showed a majority of carriers remain unsure about intra-Ontario freight volumes compared to last quarter. The number who report improved volumes from the last survey is down slightly (31% from 37%), while only 6% believe they will experience decreased volumes. For inter-provincial movements, 28% predict volume improvements – up from 16% reported last quarter. The 41% of carriers who indicated a volume boost in southbound US freight is up from the last two quarters of 36% and 27%, albeit still down 20 to 25 points from 2014 reports. Nearly half (47%) are unsure. Northbound US freight saw another nice bump, as 31% felt volumes had improved.

More than a quarter (27%)of carriers said they were optimistic in their six-month outlook for intra-Ontario freight volumes, down slightly from 35% last quarter. A  majority (68%) predict stagnancy or – depending on the preferred viewpoint – stability, as they indicate no short-term change in volumes. It’s a similar situation inter-provincially, where 62% don’t expect any significant flux. Meanwhile, 26% say volumes will improve – the same as last quarter but half of the number who said the same thing last year at this time.

 Although less than half of carriers (46%) continue to report capacity as being unaffected, another 46% reported increased capacity – nearly double from the last quarter (24%) and the only time since the Great Recession in 2009 when over 35% of carrier indicated excess capacity. Only 8% said capacity had decreased in the previous three months. Most carriers (60%) predicted little change in the capacity situation over the next six months, while 22% say capacity will expand further and 17% suggest it will tighten. Relatedly, only 32% of carriers expect to add tractors and trailers  in the short-term.

Carrier costs
Fleets continue to struggle to keep a lid on rising costs, according to the survey. Respondents were nearly unanimous (94%) in saying that tractor/engine prices have increased by at least 10% and for the first time since OTA launched the business expectations survey more than half (52%) indicated price increases of 20% or higher.  About 31% of carriers indicated trailer costs hikes of 20% or more. Nearly all respondents reported some sort of wage increases (84%), down slightly from 92% from last survey. Naturally, with the price of oil, carriers said they saw some relief at the pumps, with only 21% reporting unchanged or increased fuel prices.

Top concerns
After being listed as the top concern for several consecutive surveys, the driver shortage slipped to third place among issues on the minds of carriers, eclipsed by the economy and rates/capacity (36% each). The driver shortage was listed as the number one concern for 33% of respondents – down from 40% and 50% in the last two surveys.

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