Given all the uncertainly regarding the economy, volumes, rates, drivers, and regulation, more carriers, especially small ones, are thinking about leaving the industry or liquidating in the next six months, according to Transport Capital Partners' Third Quarter Business Expectations Survey.

Despite tight capacity that is driving good financial reports among larger carriers, the number of carriers who say they have given "any serious consideration" to leaving the industry if tonnage does not increase within the next six months increased by 32% from 11.3% to 15%. But it is still below the all time high of 22.3% in February '09.

The number is 20% for fleets under $25 million revenues but 11.8% of fleets over $25 million.

The share of carriers expecting business volumes to improve has been halved since February 2011's high point. Carriers' optimism that business volumes will increase over the next 12 months fell from a high of 92.4% in February, to 44.9% in August. In fact, most carrier executives shifted to a "remain the same" response over the last quarter, with 46.7% expecting that volumes will remain the same. The percent that think volumes will actually decrease has gone from 0% in February to 7.5% in August 2011.

Richard Mikes, TCP partner, notes that "Ironically. even though smaller fleets are more optimistic about volumes over the next 12 months [than larger carriers], they still indicate that they are more serious about leaving the industry.''

Lana Batts, TCP partner, observes that "a dichotomy still remains in our industry, even with carriers seeing more freight volumes. They are still under cost pressure from most inputs (fuel, regulations, equipment, drivers). In essence, it just isn't any fun anymore."

On a more long-term basis, the number of carriers thinking about selling in the next 18 months (compared to the next six months discussed above), rose slightly from 25% to 28%. But this is the highest percentage of carriers that have been interested in selling long-term since TCP began the survey in Feb of 2009. Almost 40% of the smaller carriers are giving consideration to leaving the industry in the next 18 months, compared to only 23% of the larger carriers.

"The desire to leave the industry will significantly change the face of the industry as well as the business models that depend upon smaller carriers providing hard assets," said Batts.

As Mikes says, "Taken in its entirety, this third quarter survey shows a 'trend of caution' in the overall no-growth economy."