Results from Transport Capital Partners' Fourth Quarter 2012 Business Expectations Survey found that given the political and economic uncertainty, carriers' expectations for freight volumes and rate increases for the next twelve months also show a lack of confidence.
For the first time since the first quarter of 2009, a larger share of carriers (45%) expect business volumes to remain the same rather than increase in the year ahead.
With the expectations of consistent volumes, carriers are split as to whether rates will remain the same (46%) or increase in the year ahead (44%).
Larger carriers (over $25 million in revenue) are more optimistic than smaller carriers - nearly 20% of smaller carriers actually expect rates to decrease in the next twelve months.
"The fourth quarter survey reflected over 90% dissatisfaction with the presidential election by carriers. Their volume and rate outlook does not bode well for cash flows and profits in 2013 for an industry under costs and availability pressure for drivers," observes TCP Partner Richard Mikes. "We expect the economy and carrier expectations to be affected by the current debates in Washington."
The recent survey also found that only 21% of carriers reported rate increases over the last three months, the lowest percentage since February of 2010. Seventy percent of carriers reported that their rates remained the same for the last three months which is the highest percentage since the question was initially asked in May of 2009.
"Driver pay increases will be constrained by these stagnant rates. It will be a tough balancing act for carriers to keep drivers. Investment in capacity is also likely to continue to slow," states Steven Dutro, a TCP partner. Dutro also mentioned that TCP is seeing a rise in calls for advisory services.
Given the split outlook for increased volumes and rates, for the first time, half of the carriers report that they do not expect to be able to renegotiate any increases in ever important accessorials such as fuel surcharges and detention times.
"Continued high fuel costs, inadequate fuel surcharges, and some shippers not recognizing the impact of delays on schedules with constricted hours-of-service rules will force an increase in distressed situations," notes Mikes.