The spot market for truckload capacity, which began the year on a weak note, will stay soft for the rest of 2015. The lackluster demand should create breathing room for shippers and intermediaries who saw spot rates soar last year on the heels of a brutal winter that paralyzed many truck operations, and concerns about a West Coast port shutdown that never materialized.
A group of panelists at the NASSTRAC annual shipper conference and expo in Orlando said yesterday that current truck supply and demand is balanced and predictable. The market is not plagued with so-called exception freight, meaning that carriers are better able to handle overflow loads beyond their contractual commitments. That, in turn, means that less freight needs to be pushed into the spot market.
"There won't be much of a spot market this year," said Greg Ritter, senior vice president, strategic accounts, for XPO Logistics Inc., a third-party logistics provider that generates most of its revenue from freight brokerage. Brokerage is a transactional business that relies on the spot market to match loads with trucks.
Carrier lending is picking up steam, said Thom Albrecht, managing director, equity research at the investment research and banking concern BB&T Capital Markets. BB&T lends to about 200 carriers, and funding to support truck-leasing activity has increased by double-digit amounts. "We are providing capital," he said. "Whatever angle you're coming from, there's money right now."
Albrecht said the headline number of 3.5 percent year-on-year increases in heavy-duty net replacement capacity should be taken with a grain of salt. The totals were skewed by 5-percent gains in less-than-truckload (LTL) and tank truck capacity, and by some growth in private fleets, he said. There is virtually no growth in dry van fleets, the most prevalent form of truck carriage, he said. "It is unbelievably challenging to add capacity," he said, echoing comments made yesterday at the conference by Derek J. Leathers, president and chief operating officer of truckload and logistics giant Werner Enterprises Inc.
Albrecht added he hadn't found a shipper that had seen its truckload rates go up less than 5 percent. The level of increases may decline as the year progresses, though, Albrecht added, perhaps falling to an average of 3 percent by the third quarter. That may depend on whether, and to what degree, growth in capacity exceeds increases in the nation's industrial production, he said.