While FTR’s Trucking Conditions Index showed substantial improvement in January, the index remains in the negative. FTR’s current outlook is for consistently negative TCI readings into the third quarter of 2024.
In January, FTR's Trucking Conditions Index rose to a -1.71 reading from December’s -6.1. Stronger freight volume and rates partially offset weaker utilization and a fuel cost environment that was not as positive as it had been in December.
January’s TCI might prove to be the least unfavorable for carriers for a while, according to FTR.
And while outlooks are pointing to negative for the time being, swings in diesel prices could yield some outliers. Fuel costs certainly will be a positive contributor to the February index, FTR officials said.
“While overall market conditions for trucking companies remain negative, we still see varied impacts among carriers based on size and type of operation," Avery Vise, FTR’s vice president of trucking, said. "For example, freight volume in the van segments looks largely stable or better after a decline in the second half of last year, but more specialized segments are expected to see continued weakness this year."
He also said financing costs have been "a consistently negative factor" for about nine months as the Federal Reserve battles inflation with higher interest rates.
"Those costs tend to hurt smaller operations more than larger ones," Vise said. "The recent troubles in the banking sector have further increased the degree of uncertainty as the economy and freight markets move toward a post-pandemic norm.”
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 prices, and financing costs. The individual metrics are combined into a single index indicating the industry’s overall health. A positive score represents good, optimistic conditions. Conversely, a negative score represents bad, pessimistic conditions. Readings near zero are consistent with a neutral operating environment, and double-digit readings in either direction suggest significant operating changes are likely.