Truckload capacity slackened slightly in the last two weeks of February but remains significantly tighter than in recent months, according to Longbow Research.
That may keep upward pressure on truckload pricing in the first quarter.
The Wall Street research firm's weekly truckload barometer declined 2.8 percent week-to-week, but was still at a level comparable to last year's second quarter.
Year-over-year, the index was up nearly 80 percent, and has climbed 25.9 percent since the beginning of 2011, which indicates truckload capacity is tightening.
"We continue to suspect improved index readings over the past three weeks have been to some extent driven by weather-related supply constraints," the firm said.
The index is a measure of the amount of available truckload freight relative to current levels of available equipment. It climbs as capacity gets tighter.
Other industry yardsticks also indicate demand for trucking is growing in early 2011, putting pressure on capacity in a period of severe winter storms.
The seasonally adjusted American Trucking Associations Truck Tonnage Index rose 3.8 percent from December to January, hitting its highest level since January 2008.
Spot market truckload freight volume shot up 62 percent year-over-year in January, according to the TransCore North American Freight Index, setting a new record.
In late February, truckload capacity was hardest to find in the Southeastern coastal states from Delaware to Florida, according to Longbow Research.
The firm's flatbed index rose for the seventh straight week, climbing 8.9 percent from the previous week to its highest level in the past two years.
"Recent conversations with industry contacts also suggest a tighter supply/demand environment in early 2011," Longbow Research said in a note to investors.
-- Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com.