U.S. trucking industry volumes to grow 4.2 percent in 2018: forecast

Commercial trucks cross over the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, Ontario from Detroit, Michigan U.S. August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. truck transportation volume will rise 4.2 percent in the United States in 2018, fueled in part by a manufacturing industry rebound and a healthy economy, according to a new forecast from the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

That growth rate is expected to ease to 2.3 percent per year from 2019 through 2024, but offer little relief to shippers struggling through a U.S. trucking shortage, ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said.

“Capacity will remain tight as the economy grows, spurred by traditional drivers of truck freight: manufacturing, construction and consumer spending,” Costello said.Major trucking companies, including Covenant Transportation Group Inc and Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc’s Knight Transportation, have sharply raised prices as demand outpaces supply in a trucking market constrained by a driver shortage and other factors.

ATA does not track or forecast shipping rates, but does monitor rate proxies such as average revenue per mile excluding fuel surcharges.

“Right now ... average revenue per mile is increasing at its highest rate, certainly since the early 1990s when data becomes available, but probably ever,” Costello said.

Food companies are among the hardest hit by rising trucking costs. Distributor US Foods Holding Corp, breakfast cereal maker Kellogg Co and meat processor and marketer Tyson Foods Inc recently reported higher shipping and logistics costs had bitten into profits.

Costello said relief will come if “we significantly increase the number of drivers in short order, which is very unlikely; or the economy slows down significantly, which will eventually happen, but not any time soon.”The U.S. trucking industry generated more than $700 billion in revenue in 2017, accounting for 79.3 percent of overall U.S. freight revenue and 70.2 percent of tonnage.

Total truck tonnage, including for-hire and private carrier operations, hit 10.8 billion tons in 2017, the highest on record, according to IHS Global Insight. As of last year, total truck tonnage was up 26.4 percent from the low in 2009.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Chris Reese