Trucking markets: Things are looking up

Broad-based volume growth in the majority of freight markets led to slight capacity tightening and hikes in spot rates on some of the most challenged lanes (into the Pacific Northwest, for instance). Reefer rates continue to rebound.

Overall contracted truckload volumes are still down 3.36% year-over-year against a weak 2019 comparison, but anecdotes from both carriers and brokers have been positive about the momentum they’re seeing from customers. 

Given persisting movement and work restrictions in California and the Northeast, we think freight markets are relatively healthy, all things considered. 

For us, the biggest unknown is how the consumer will behave in the second quarter. Did stay at home orders create pent-up demand that will be unleashed in a giddy summer spending season? Or will high levels of unemployment – historically generous stimulus and unemployment aid notwithstanding – pull down confidence, spending and freight volumes? 

There will continue to be sectoral challenges in the economy (we expect consolidation in the retail and restaurant industries, oil & gas to stay depressed for some time, and real estate development to be risk-off), but, in our view, the consumer will dictate the pace and magnitude of the freight recovery that is just beginning.

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