The trucking industry appears to be bouncing back sooner than most other industries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changing habits lead to freight growth

According to industry economists, the recession caused by the pandemic is likely over, but it has transformed consumer habits in a way that will likely reshape the entire U.S. economic landscape for the foreseeable future. And – in a way that has and will continue to positively affect the trucking industry.

Although the National Bureau of Economic Research has not officially announced the end of the recession, the four main economic indicators which are used to measure the recession – industrial production, business sales, personal income, and nonfarm payrolls – are all climbing this fall after two quarters of negative growth.

While ATA Economist Bob Costello noted that it will be at least a year before the economy truly recovers, trucking has a far more positive outlook than other sectors. Although historically, trucking has been hit harder than other sectors by recessions, the current pandemic has resulted in growth for many of trucking companies’ biggest customers.

The reason, according to Costello, is that “in normal times, we spend a lot more on services. We usually spend about two-thirds of our money on services and on third on goods.” The pandemic led to a major shift in consumers’ buying habits toward spending considerably more on goods than on services.

Goods consumption fell 5% in the second quarter of 2020 while spending on services dropped 15%. And in the third quarter, goods consumption rose to higher than at the start of 2020. E-commerce is expected to grow 20% in 2020, while brick-and-mortal sales have decreased by about 5%.

This has created a spike in demand for trucking freight, as Costello pointed out that services are a much less truck intensive industry as compared with goods.

Goods consumption is expected to level off at some point, however; “it’s going to remain elevated,” said Costello, “not but grow at the same rate. Part of the reason is that consumers simply don’t have as much to spend due to widespread unemployment and a lack of stimulus bills compared to earlier in the year.

However, this pandemic has transformed Americans’ buying habits, which means it will likely have lasting effects on the industry. E-commerce is expected to grow even further in 2021 and many consumers have grown accustomed to buying groceries as opposed to eating in restaurants. According to McLeod Software founder and CEO Tom McLeod, this trend “has likely been accelerated in a way during this pandemic that’s it not going to be reversed.”

Pay increases for drivers

There’s also good news for truckers, as many carriers are announcing wage increases due to tightened capacity and a loss of drivers. Said Jeremy Reymer, CEO of Indianapolis-based driver recruiting firm DriverReach, “I think we’ve lost a ton of drivers this year, because of COVID.”

As professional, experienced truckers are needed more than ever to fulfil the accelerated demand for shipping, many industry experts say that more rate increases are likely to occur in the future.

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