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A sudden increase in freight demand throughout the United States might put shippers in a difficult position for capacity and price later this autumn.
According to the American Trucking Association’s’ (ATA’s) Truck volume leaped 7.1 percent in August from July, and 8.2 percent year over year, the ATA said Tuesday. ATA revised July’s tonnage index, increasing it from 0.1 to 0.5 percent.
Tonnage Gets An Added Boost
“Tonnage was stronger than most other economic indicators in August and more than I would have expected,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “However, prep work for the hurricanes and better port volumes likely gave tonnage an added boost during the month.
“I suspect that short-term service disruptions from when the storms made landfall, as well as the normal ebb and flow of freight, could make September weaker and tonnage will smooth out to more moderate gains, on average,” he said.
Some of that 7.1 percent surge, however, may just be a seasonal adjustment.
Some of that 7.1 percent surge, however, may just be a seasonal adjustment. August is often a light month for tonnage as freight demand typically doesn’t start picking up till the fall. With such an increase taking place in August, ahead of schedule, that will push the seasonally adjusted index higher for the month. With the huge 10.5 percent uptick from July to August for unadjusted tonnage, that means that more, heavier freight was being shipped across the U.S. during August.
While this is good news for carrier, it could mean a rough season ahead for shippers. This increase in tonnage will likely mean tightened capacity for the fall. Additionally, shippers could be facing the biggest rate increase since 2014. 3PLs have been noting for months that capacity has been tightening as the economy improved.
The Effect of Disasters on Trucking
The devastation left in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma is also having a significant impact on the trucking industry. Combined, the hurricanes have done almost $300 billion in damage, which has lowered U.S. economic growth by 0.8 percent in the third quarter.
Considering the damage alone, it’s no surprise that reconstruction demand will be taking the lion’s share of the trucking capacity that would normally be used to serve more general needs.
“Hurricane Harvey will ‘strongly affect’ over 7% of U.S. trucking during the next two weeks, with some portion of that fraction out of operation entirely, according to an analysis by freight research firm FTR Transportation Intelligence,” says Fleet Owner.
While the disruption was more or less contained around the epicenter of the damage, there is an effect that is going to be felt across the country.
“Due to the already tight nature of the truck environment, that means that loads could be left on the docks, according to Noël Perry, one of FTR’s partners. And though the largest ripple effects of Hurricane Harvey will be “regionalized” where freight shipments are concerned, transportation managers across the entire U.S. “will be scrambling,” he added.”
“Look for spot prices to jump over the next several weeks with very strong effects in Texas and the South Central region,” Perry said in a statement. “Spot pricing was already up strong, in double-digit territory. Market participants could easily add five percentage points to those numbers.”
The State of Capacity
As far as the current state of trucking capacity goes, shippers will have to deal with a considerable constriction as the industry contends with the natural disasters and the reconstruction effort. With a considerable jump in demand from July to August and the “peak” season starting early, shippers will also have to contend with the largest rate jump in years in addition to the tight capacity. Simply put, shippers will have to make smart moves if they want to stay ahead of the competition.