The nation’s largest truckload carriers are carefully matching capacity to demand and appear likely to keep supply tight baring a sharp spike in freight shipping, according to an analysis of fleet actions by major trucking operators.
That restraint is likely to keep the heat on truck pricing in 2011.
Financial data from eight large truckload carriers shows their capacity — falling since 2006 — increased slightly in the third quarter of 2010.
On average, those carriers increased capacity 1.5 percent in the third quarter, after strong second quarter freight demand led to truck shortages and price spikes.
Three of the truckload carriers kept tractor counts almost flat in the third quarter, while one expanded by more than 5 percent and one cut back its fleet.
There’s no indication the carriers will expand capacity much without significantly higher freight demand.
The carrier group, which accounted for $11.5 billion in revenue in 2009, saw overall capacity shrink 13.1 percent from 2006 through the second quarter.
The six companies that cut their fleets shed more than 7,600 Class 8 tractors combined, reducing their capacity as a group by an average of 16 percent.
Swift Transportation, the largest U.S. truckload carrier, cut its fleet 9.9 percent during that period while Werner Enterprises, the fourth largest carrier, cut its fleet 19.8 percent. Landstar System, the third-largest truckload fleet, dropped 8.8 percent of its trucks, while Covenant Transportation cut 16.5 percent.
Celadon Trucking and Knight Transportation both ended the second and third quarters of 2010 with more tractors than they operated at the end of 2006.
The other carriers did not begin to reverse their cuts until the third quarter.
Landstar was out ahead of the others in that quarter, expanding tractors operated by its business capacity owners 5.3 percent. Werner and USA Truck built up their fleets 1.9 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, while Swift, Covenant and J.B. Hunt expanded truckload capacity less than 1 percent.
Knight, which has increased its fleet 3 percent from 2006 through the second quarter, kept adding tractors to expand capacity 2 percent in the third quarter.
Celadon, which expanded its fleet 16.9 percent from 2006 through the second half of 2010, reduced its tractor count by 4.1 percent in the third quarter.
Contact William B. Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org