Trucking markets: A fundamental dislocation

Capacity ratcheted slightly tighter across a broad swath of the country again this week, but not yet to levels (7-10%) that would trigger widespread inflation in spot market rates. Spot rates for dry vans increased faster than spot rates for refrigerated equipment, which were flattish and may be peaking. Contracted truckload volumes to major carriers are still healthy and well above year-ago levels, but shippers are tendering mini-bid freight at prices lower than prevailing contract rates, maintaining downward pressure on the market.

We’re keeping an eye on the curve of this year’s summer peak. Both 2018 and 2019 saw volume peaks in mid- to late June, which implies that this year’s volume rally may not be long for this world. But predicting truckload volumes during the coronavirus pandemic has been a fool’s errand, and we would not be surprised to see reopening businesses and pent-up consumer demand drive truckload volumes higher, in both the contract and spot markets, further into the summer months as corporations and individuals seek to make up for lost time.

One last thing about the unemployment rate surprise from last week – the first data point indicating that the jobs recovery is on. One point is just a point, two points form a line, and three points form a curve. Subsequent releases will provide better information on the pace of the recovery and the health of the overall economy.

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