ACT Research: For-Hire Trucking Index Freight Rates Lowest Since April 2020

ACT Research Co.
4 min readApr 27, 2023

Freight volumes improved, but remained weak, in March, and rates declined further, according to the latest release of ACT’s For-Hire Trucking Index.

The Trucking Volume Index declined by less in March, at 45.3 (SA) versus 43.1 in February. Volumes declined at a slower rate amidst a market of mixed economic signals and rolling recessions.

a graph of ACT’s For-Hire Trucking Index: Volumes with March 2023 data
ACT For-Hire Trucking Index: Volumes

Tim Denoyer, Vice President & Senior Analyst at ACT Research, commented, “a normal trucking freight cycle includes two-plus years of growth followed by about 18 months of retrenchment. The Volume Index has been below 50 for nine of the past 12 months. While the near-term outlook remains cautious, imports should begin to recover soon. If this cycle is like the last two, demand growth will return in 2024, perhaps even late 2023.”

The Pricing Index’s grim readings continue, falling 5.4 points to 36.5 in March (SA) from 41.9 in February. This is the second lowest reading in the index’s history, with only April of 2020 being lower.

a graph showing ACT’s For-Hire Trucking Index: Freight Rates with March 2023 data
ACT For-Hire Trucking Index: Freight Rates

He added, “The cure for low prices is low prices, and with spot rates far below fleet operating costs, capacity is slowing. While the pricing pendulum remains with shippers for now, we see signs that the next capacity rebalancing has begun. We think capacity is set to decline later this year, and rate trends should begin to recover as soon as traction on freight volumes is established.”

The Capacity Index ticked up by 0.6 points m/m to 53.6 in March, but still indicates slower growth than in 2022. Capacity has improved in terms of both equipment and drivers the past year, with improvements in the supply chain boosting truck production and as drivers seek safe harbor with larger, well-capitalized fleets after the sharp fall in spot volumes and rates.

The Supply-Demand Balance continues to be loose, at 41.7 (SA) in March from 40.1 in February, with the m/m increase in volumes outweighing a smaller increase in capacity.

a graph showing ACT’s For-Hire Trucking Index: Supply-Demand Balance with March 2023 data
ACT For-Hire Trucking Index: Supply-Demand Balance

Denoyer concluded, “March marked the thirteenth consecutive underwater point in the series. For context, in the 2015–2016 downcycle, the Supply-Demand Balance was loose for 17 of 19 months. The loose market will persist in the near term, but the seeds have been sown for a rebalancing.”

The ACT For-Hire Trucking Index is a monthly survey of for-hire trucking service providers. ACT Research converts responses into diffusion indexes, where the neutral or flat activity level is 50. Please contact us at trucks@actresearch.net if you are a for-hire executive interested in participating. In return, participants receive a detailed monthly analysis of the survey data, including Volumes, Freight Rates, Driver Availability, Capacity, Productivity and Purchasing Intentions, plus a complimentary copy of ACT’s Transportation Digest report.

ACT Research: Freight Forecast

ACT Research Freight Forecast provides analysis and forecasts for a broad range of U.S. freight measures, including the Cass Freight Index®, Cass Truckload Linehaul Index®, and DAT spot and contract rates by trailer type. The service provides monthly, quarterly, and annual predictions for the truckload, less-than-truckload, and intermodal markets over a two- to three-year time horizon, including capacity, volumes, and rates. The ACT Research Freight Forecast uses equipment capacity modeling and the firm’s industry economics expertise to provide unprecedented visibility for the future of freight rates, helping businesses in transportation and logistics management plan for the future with confidence.

ACT Research is recognized as the leading publisher of commercial vehicle truck, trailer, and bus industry data, market analysis and forecasts for the North America and China markets. ACT’s analytical services are used by all major North American truck and trailer manufacturers and their suppliers, as well as banking and investment companies. ACT Research is a contributor to the Blue Chip Economic Indicators and a member of the Wall Street Journal Economic Forecast Panel. ACT Research executives have received peer recognition, including election to the Board of Directors of the National Association for Business Economics, appointment as Consulting Economist to the National Private Truck Council, and the Lawrence R. Klein Award for Blue Chip Economic Indicators’ Most Accurate Economic Forecast over a four-year period. ACT Research senior staff members have earned accolades including Chicago Federal Reserve Automotive Outlook Symposium Best Overall Forecast, Wall Street Journal Top Economic Outlook, and USA Today Top 10 Economic Forecasters. More information can be found at www.actresearch.net.

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ACT Research Co.

ACT Research is the leader in commercial vehicle industry data, market analysis, and forecasting services for North America.