November 18, 2019

Freight markets remain far below heights of 2018

Trailer orders rose in October, but trucking conditions stay in negative territory for now, ACT and FTR say.

By DC Velocity Staff

Trailer manufacturers increased their manufacturing rates in October, rising steeply from a dull September but still falling far below the dizzying heights of 2018, a new study shows.

The trailer makers booked 31,900 net orders to their orderboards in October, a 71% spike from September and the second straight month of sequential growth greater than 70%, ACT Research, a Columbus, Ind.-based analyst and forecasting firm, said. Despite that jump in activity, volume was 42% below last year, and year-to-date, net orders are off 52% from the torrid pace of 2018, ACT said in its "State of the Industry: U.S. Trailers" report.

"After a lackluster summer, order volume has now surged for two straight months, and is tracking more in line with historic seasonal order patterns," Frank Maly, director-CV Transportation Analysis and Research at ACT Research, said in a release. "October order strength was highly concentrated in dry vans, where orders were more than two times that of September."

In another measure of the anemic freight environment, the industry consulting firm FTR said today that its Trucking Conditions Index (TCI) for September was -2.94, marking its lowest reading since May and reflecting a relatively weak environment for carriers.

The TCI tracks the changes representing five major conditions in the U.S. truck market, including: freight volumes, freight rates, fleet capacity, fuel price, and financing. Those individual metrics are combined into a single index indicating the industry's overall health, where a positive score represents good, optimistic conditions and a negative score represents bad, pessimistic conditions.

Despite the negative score for September, Bloomington, Ind.-based FTR does not forecast any further eroding of the TCI, and expects near-neutral measure through the first half of 2020. "The near-term outlook for trucking conditions remains stable with little growth expected in freight volume and no growth expected in active capacity," Avery Vise, FTR's vice president of trucking, said in a release. 

"Risks to this outlook appear mostly negative, including the potential for higher diesel prices in the wake of impending changes in global maritime fuel requirements. However, the big questions are whether the industrial sector will improve or weaken further and whether consumer spending will remain a firewall against declines in overall freight volume," Vise said.

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