Trucking Conditions Index Falls Slightly

BLOOMINGTON, IN. — A measure of business conditions in the U.S. trucking industry posted its third straight monthly drop in March, according to a newly released report, but there is confidence the situation is already improving.

The Trucking Conditions Index, from the freight transportation forecasting firm FTR, fell to 7.3, down from 7.4 in February and 7.8 in January, reflecting a continued softness due to the end of the large drops in fuel costs and a modest lessening of demand for truck services.

However, FTR expects conditions affecting trucking companies to rebound by summer as economic growth improves, truck demand stabilizes, and capacity tightens further, but also cautions weak manufacturing levels could pose a risk.

“Conditions for truckers and fleets remains quite positive despite the recent dip in the index,” said Jonathan Starks, FTR’s director of transportation analysis. “This dip followed a very strong increase in the TCI over the last half of 2014 as solid volumes, good rate gains, and falling diesel prices helped propel the December index to its first double-digit reading since early 2010.”

He said the recent data on the U.S. economy has been mixed with the first quarter gross domestic product coming in substantially weaker but sales and employment picking back up at the beginning of the second quarter.

“This recovery has been unusual in that first quarter GDP has generally been much weaker than the growth seen the rest of the year,” Starks said. “This gives us optimism that the truck markets will not be significantly slowed, although it is likely that manufacturing output will be less strong in 2015. This will be especially true for exports of U.S. goods, as the dollar has risen over 20% in the last year and our goods are now more expensive and less competitive in global markets.”

FTR said it also keeping an eye on sales and inventories data because, so far, the drop in fuel costs has not directly translated into large gains in consumer spending.

“If consumers save that cash, it will likely mean another year of slow and steady economic growth, however, if production doesn’t slow to follow suit, then we will get an inventory glut that will have to be quickly worked down. If they start spending, it could help fuel another surge in economic growth like we saw last year,” Starks said.

 

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