Freight rates are trending higher, along with trucking activity itself.  -  Photo: MacKay & Co.

Freight rates are trending higher, along with trucking activity itself.

Photo: MacKay & Co.

Bob Dieli predicted a “rough ride” for the trucking industry in 2020. Little did he know how rough that ride would be.

During last January’s Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue, the MacKay and Company economist cited challenges such as exports that were beginning to reflect a trade war with China. A month later, his Truckable Economic Activity (TEA) indicator – which focuses on goods that move by truck – began its push downward.

“Pretty much everything turned red simultaneously,” he said during the 2021 Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue, held virtually on Jan. 25. “TEA never misses the chance to participate in a recession, and this year was no exception.”

Trucking-related activity is rebounding, though.

Business inventories that moved at a record pace in the second quarter of the year began to ease as manufacturers began to reopen shuttered plants. Consumer spending on non-durable goods – and the non-automotive consumer goods sold by the likes of Walmart – is on the rise.  And there was a rebound in residential constriction once COVID-related restrictions were eased.

But the timeline for a full recovery will largely depend on how the pandemic is resolved, Dieli said, referring to factors like vaccine distribution schedules, and how long some workers will need to stay at home to care for school-aged children.

Domestic and international supply chain disruptions are leading to pressures of their own, Dieli added, referring to issues that affect production and inventory management. Weaker global demand is expected to limit export activity this year, while supply chain issues constrain imports.

“We have issues that relate to the physical movement of goods, especially at ports,” Dieli told an online audience of aftermarket suppliers, referring to the challenge of getting containers and ships to the right place.

“Your customers – as well as your suppliers – are having difficulty securing the goods, and in some cases the services, you need.”

One of the biggest challenges he cites is the revenue shortfall faced by governments that are responsible for investing in roads, bridges and public buildings.

“I’m concerned the budget constraints these entities are going to face could be a problem going forward,” he said.

But in the midst of it all, truck transportation prices are trending higher along with trucking activity itself, even though they still are not matching the pace seen in 2018.

“The rebound here,” he said, “is welcome.”