FTR’s Trucking Conditions Index rebounded in January to a 10.37 reading, roughly matching the November index reading and beating out December’s index of 8.51. Stronger freight rates and volume more than offset higher fuel costs in January.
Rising fuel costs will have a more negative impact on the February, FTR officials said in a press release. However, the index will remain very strong because freight market dynamics are solidly in carriers’ favor, they said.
FTR’s latest forecast calls for stronger freight demand through 2021, and they expect positive trucking conditions through 2021 even if the current tight driver market were to loosen somewhat as the COVID-19 pandemic fades.
“Market conditions are close to the best ever for trucking companies, and they should remain that way at least through this year,” said Avery Vise, FTR’s vice president of trucking. “With stimulus from Washington, extraordinarily lean inventories, and a fading pandemic, solid freight demand is practically baked in.”
The risk to good times is that driver capacity comes back too strongly as labor participation rebounds. But with the pipeline of new drivers constricted for the past year, that risk seems low, Vise said.
“Trucking’s weak payroll jobs numbers for January and February even as freight volume is strong suggests that the principal issue is the supply of drivers, not demand for them,” he added.
The TCI tracks the changes representing five major conditions in the U.S. truck market. These conditions are: freight volumes, freight rates, fleet capacity, fuel price, and financing.