The Transport Capital Partners 4th Quarter 2011 Business Expectations Survey found carriers optimistic for the year ahead with 61% of carriers expecting volumes to increase in 2012, and only 7% expecting volumes to decrease.

Both large and small carriers responded similarly. According to Richard Mikes, TCP Partner and survey leader, "Carriers shared a higher level of confidence despite the roller coaster ride reflected in stock market over the last quarter."

The survey volume outlook correlated with the majority of carriers reporting freight rates moving up over the last three months as well.

Half the of the carriers surveyed reported rate increase of 5% of more, with only 1% of carriers reporting an increase of 15% or more, compared with almost 8% that experienced the 15% threshold in the second quarter. However, 48% reported rates remaining the same over the last three months with only 3% reporting rate decreases.

Carriers over $25 million experienced stronger rate increases in both the 5% and 10% increase categories than that of the smaller carriers. This is not surprising, as the larger tend to have more market "power" and the smaller carriers move their rates after the larger carriers, TCP suggests. Moreover, 5% of the smaller carriers actually experienced rate decreases.

"Freight rates in the spot market are generally upward according to many sources as capacity remains flat and volumes are pushing upward in the industry," notes Lana Batts, TCP Partner.

The brightest light in the survey was that almost three-fourths of the carriers expect rates to increase in 2012.

"Most economists are seeing growth in the economy, albeit it slow growth. This is pushing more freight on to a very limited truck base, with shippers and brokers scrambling for trucks as carriers phones 'ring off the wall," Mikes observes.

Carriers are cautious, however, about adding more trucks according to other parts of the survey yet to be fully analyzed. As Batts points out, "The industry cut 15-20% of their capacity by not buying new trucks, and most carriers and dealers are telling us that the new surge in orders is primarily to replace the aging national fleet, not to add more capacity."

TCP uses this quarterly survey along with partner conversations with carriers to provide a meaningful insight into future industry expectations.

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