Capacity at a group of six large U.S. truckload carriers rose slightly from the first quarter to the second quarter and dropped only 1 percent from a year ago, indicating that truck supply and demand maintained a rough balance this spring.
However, the tractor count at the $10 billion carrier group tracked by The Journal of Commerce was down 4.1 percent from the second quarter in 2009, 10 percent from the same period in 2008 and 18 percent from the end of 2006.
At the end of 2006, the group had 33,332 tractors. It culled 8.1 percent of those trucks in 2007, another 3.9 percent in 2008, 5.5 percent in 2009 and 0.7 percent in 2010. The group’s tractor count is down 1.1 percent since the end of 2010.
There’s no sign that truckload carriers are prepared to close that widening gap with pre-recession truck counts, as operating costs rise, equipment prices increase and carriers claim difficulty hiring enough qualified drivers to seat their trucks.
Increasingly, carriers say driver availability is the determining factor in capacity, with some companies claiming their ability to add equipment is limited by their inability to hire the experienced, qualified drivers they say they need.
That will keep upward pressure on truckload rates, which rose in the mid-single digit range during the second quarter, according to carrier financial reports.
The 0.2 percent second quarter increase in truck count was only the second positive capacity number for the carrier group since the first quarter of 2008. The group last increased its collective capacity in the third quarter of 2010, by 2.9 percent.
All but one of the six carriers added tractors to their fleet in the second quarter — either company-owned equipment or owner-operators. But they only added a total of 47 trucks, bringing their combined fleet to 27,325 units at the end of the quarter.
Year-over-year, the group divided. Three of the carriers increased their capacity by an average of 1.7 percent. Three others cut capacity by an average of 4.4 percent.