Despite shaky economy carriers stand firm on pricing

What’s going on in the trucking industry is a bit unusual.

Our country’s economic foundation is shaky at best, but truck carriers are raising rates and standing firm on pricing. As we’ve experienced – not too long ago – in times of economic uncertainty freight volumes usually fall and rates drop as desperate carriers vie for business. But, this is not the case.

First of all, volumes are rising. In fact, on Wednesday the DOT announced that its freight transportation services index rose 4.4% year over year in September and reached its highest level in more than three years. All reports and analyses point to the fact that capacity is tightening; however, we must realize that this happens a lot faster now. Over the last few years many trucking companies have gone out of business and those remaining are struggling to put qualified drivers behind steering wheels. What’s more, carriers are hesitant to add capacity to their existing fleets.

According to a survey by Transport Capital Partners, 73 percent of carriers said they did not plan to add capacity over the next year or they were only planning to add 5 percent at the most. Can we blame them? Carrier operating costs are increasing, and the economic climate is cool and its forecast is unpredictable.

Mode wise, these conditions do not discriminate; both less-than-truckload (LTL) and truckload (TL) companies have raised their rates and, according to many analysts, they will do so again.

Less-than-truckload:

Between July and September, several major LTL carriers rolled out General Rate Increases (GRIs):

  • FedEx Freight – 6.75% effective 9/6
  • Old Dominion Freight Line – 4.9% effective 9/6
  • YRC Worldwide – 6.9% effective 8/1
  • UPS Freight – 6.9% effective 8/1
  • Conway Freight – 6.9% effective 8/1
  • ABF Freight System – 6.9% effective 7/25

I think the title of Tuesdays’ Journal of Commerce article says it all – “LTL Rates Rising, But So Are Costs.” Labor, healthcare and material costs are rising and carriers need to recoup these expenses to ensure their survival. They are also trying to make up for recent years when industry conditions were not in their favor.

Truckload:

According to Transcore, September truckload pricing increased – average dry van spot market rates rose 2.3 percent compared to August and 3.9 percent compared to 2010. And in a recent survey, the firm found truckload carriers increased their pricing by 10 percent in the first half of the year. And it’s not just rates that will drive pricing up; Transport Capital Partners found more than two-thirds of truckload carriers plan to increase the use of accessorial charges.

Not great news for shippers, I know. But we can take solace in the fact that carriers are doing what they need to do to keep pace with rising costs and promote their sustainability, which will mitigate further tightening in the long term. Meanwhile, we will adjust – as we always do. In this business, there’s no such thing as business as usual.

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