ACT Research released the September installment of the ACT Freight Forecast, U.S. Rate and Volume OUTLOOK report covering the truckload, intermodal, LTL and last mile sectors.
For the past few months, we’ve been expecting pre-tariff shipping to ramp up ahead of the List 4 tariffs, and this month’s report presents a plethora of evidence that inventory building is the main factor behind the recent uptick in freight.
With the temporary nature of this tailwind, ACT Research maintained its view that truckload and intermodal contract rates will fall this year, due to overcapacity and weak freight demand, while LTL pricing will stay positive.
Tim Denoyer, ACT Research’s Vice President and Senior Analyst, said, “We now expect another soft patch in freight when the current inventory build turns to a draw, likely this winter after tariffs are imposed.”
He added, “This is similar to the dynamic of last year, but the main difference is that capacity has loosened materially. Truck sales have not softened yet, and amid ongoing excess capacity, this will hurt truckers’ negotiating position just as discussions begin for next year’s bid season.”
US Class 8 tractor order intake was down about 90% y/y in July and August, off record year-ago levels, but OEMs still have not meaningfully lowered production rates and new truck inventories are at all-time highs. While backlogs are quickly thinning, carriers are still spending aggressively and adding to capacity.
Denoyer concluded, “We remain very concerned about a variety of adverse economic consequences of US trade policy, from the inverted yield curve to the industrial downturn to lower confidence and elevated uncertainty, not just inventory swings. While recession is still not our base case, risks are heightened.”
The ACT Truckload Rate Gauge improved this month on better freight volume, though it still favors shippers with a -3 reading. The coming decline in US Class 8 tractor build rates should begin to bring the supply side a little more into balance, but inventory distortions are expected to become a headwind for freight in early 2020, pushing the gauge back to -6.
The Truckload Rate Gauge is ACT’s measure of trucking industry supply/demand, balancing changes in the number of active trucks and the amount of available freight. The Current gauge gives us a good directional feel for spot today and contract in about six months, and the Six Months Out gauge tells us about spot in six months and contract in about a year.
The ACT Freight Forecast provides quarterly forecasts for the direction of volumes and contract rates through 2020 and annual forecasts through 2021 for the truckload, less-than-truckload and intermodal segments of the transportation industry. For the truckload spot market, the report provides forecasts for the next twelve months.
ACT Research is recognized as the leading publisher of commercial vehicle truck, trailer, and bus industry data, market analysis and forecasts for the North America and China markets. ACT’s analytical services are used by all major North American truck and trailer manufacturers and their suppliers, as well as banking and investment companies. ACT Research is a contributor to the Blue Chip Economic Indicators and a member of the Wall Street Journal Economic Forecast Panel. Executive staff appointments include a seat on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Business Economics and Consulting Economist to the National Private Truck Council. Accolades include Chicago Federal Reserve Automotive Outlook Symposium Best Overall Forecast, Wall Street Journal Top Economic Outlook, and USA Today Top 10 Economic Forecasters. More information can be found at www.actresearch.net.
For more information about ACT’s Freight Forecast, U.S. Rate and Volume OUTLOOK, please click here.