Aug 1, 2008 12:00 PM
Refrigerated Fleets Remain an economic bright spot for the trucking industry, said American Trucking Associations (ATA) economist Tavio Headley, and “is the best performing segment, growing substantially from the first quarter of last year.”
He made the observation in his presentation, Economic and Motor Carrier Industry Update, delivered to the Global Cold Chain Alliance Assembly of Committees meeting in late July in Washington, DC.
Looking at the entire trucking industry, tonnage volumes for both for-hire truckload (TL) and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers was up 3%, while loads hauled was up 4.1%, this January through May, compared with the same period last year, said Headley.
On a year-over-year basis, tonnage volumes in May were up 3.2% from a year earlier. That was the seventh straight year-over-year gain, and “that's a very positive sign for the trucking industry, but it's still too early to call it a recovery. The economy is still very weak and there is a lot of uncertainty with housing and energy prices.”
In the first quarter of 2007, tonnage for both TL and LTL carriers was flat. For this year's first quarter, there's been “significant improvement,” with both segments expanding, and LTL outperforming the TL segment.
Total truckload loads — the majority of which is dry freight, have been relatively flat over the past several years, Headley said, due in part to structural changes in the industry. For one thing, products have been getting smaller. At the same time, packaging is also getting reduced. “Consequently, you can fit more products on a trailer, and as a result, TL shipments are reduced.”
However, since early 2004, “there's been a very sharp upward trend in refrigerated loads because there hasn't been that type of package consolidation.”
The ATA has found that truck capacity is tightening quickly for two key reasons. One is that as business has slowed, motor carriers have trimmed their fleet size; by 2.6% last year. For the first quarter of this year, even with loads hauled up nearly 3%, carriers have reduce fleet size an additional 1.4%, “and we expect this trend to continue during the second quarter.”
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