Research firm FTR Associates sees tightening truck capacity and rising truck pricing ahead this year for North American shippers as freight demand outstrips GDP.
“This will continue to keep transport capacity tight throughout the forecast period, resulting in ongoing upward rate pressure,” said senior consultant Larry Gross.
The research firm predicted truck freight volume will grow 3.9 percent in 2012.
In comparison, U.S. GDP is forecast to grow less than 2 percent in the first quarter.
Carriers have reported only a slight decline in freight volume in the first months of 2012, and many companies saw stronger post-holiday volumes than expected.
For-hire truck tonnage was up 3.6 percent year-over-year in January, though it dropped 4 percent from December, the American Trucking Associations said.
FTR’s Shipper Conditions Index was flat in January, with a monthly reading of -4.8. Any reading below zero means “unfavorable” pricing conditions for shippers.
The Nashville, Ind.-based firm said truck utilization will remain strong, with little or no excess capacity available, until new driver work rules take effect in 2013.
Those new hours of service rules, which take effect in July 2013, are expected to shorten the daily and weekly hours available for sometruck drivers.
The biggest effect will be on truckers who rely on the 34-hour restart provision of the rules to shorten the time between work weeks and get back on the road.
Trucking companies are slowly replacing older vehicles and only cautiously expanding capacity, if at all, according to several industry sources and reports.
Truck supply relative to market demand is considered stable in early 2012. Truckers, especially truckload carriers, are more concerned with hiring drivers.
“At this point in time, there are enough trucks in place to handle the freight,” said Gary Girotti, vice president of the transportation practice at Chainalytics.
Shippers are looking for ways to work more closely with truckers cut costs, avoid higher pricing and ensure adequate capacity for the spring shipping season.
“Transportation procurement has become a full-time process again, the way it used to be,” Girotti said during a Journal of Commerce webinar on contracting.