Economy Watch

Contract truckload rates are defying economic gravity, rising in April when truck tonnage and spot market rates slipped. The cause: capacity. Shippers apparently are willing to pay more to secure it for the long-term.

Spot market truck freight volumes in the U.S. dropped 10 percent in April from March, but remained above April 2013 levels, according to DAT Solutions. The sagging spot market is another indication that the U.S. economy has yet to find the lever to pull to restore the stronger growth it enjoyed in 2014.

Palletways, one of several groups offering shippers a palletized freight network in Europe, says it plans eastward expansion as cross-border volume within its network grows.

Truck tonnage slipped 3 percent in April from March and rose only 1 percent from a year ago, but remains well above 2013 levels, according to the American Trucking Associations. That signals trucking may be driving across a new economic plateau.

The number of tractor-trailers crossing U.S. borders rose 2.4 percent in the first quarter, following a 4 percent increase last year, according to Department of Transportation data. Border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico outpaced U.S.-Canadian truck traffic.

Everybody's working for the weekend, the song goes, but cargo thieves work on the weekend, with most thefts occurring Friday and Saturday. Memorial Day weekend could see a spike in activity, after an increase in thefts in the first quarter.

ACT Research expects the number of active Class 8 tractors in the U.S. to climb from 1.35 million last year to 1.43 million this year, but faster economic growth and a driver shortage could blunt any advantage for shippers.

U.S. shipment volumes and spending rose in April from March, but were down year-over-year, thanks to tough comparisons with a booming economy in 2014, Cass Information Systems said. The freight payment provider expects more growth ahead.

U.S. trucking companies added 1,900 jobs in April, reversing a sharp decline in March and boosting the JOC For-Hire Trucking Employment Index to 99.5 -- near its pre-recession peak.

Old Dominion Freight Line didn't brake for the general slowdown apparent in first-quarter U.S. GDP. The less-than-truckload carrier reinvested earnings in expansion.