ACT Research: Refrigerated market to lead us out of the downcycle?

ACT Research Co.
3 min readMar 23, 2023

The mild freight downturn is likely to persist as banking crises fray nerves and the retail destock progresses, and restocking is unlikely for a while. The truckload spot market is bottoming as labor capacity slows, according to the latest release of the ACT Freight Forecast, U.S. Rate and Volume OUTLOOK report.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Tim Denoyer, ACT Research’s Vice President and Senior Analyst, said, “What a difference a year makes. Some of the truckload spot market’s deepest roots are in western produce markets, and after one of the worst droughts in history over the past three years, weather patterns are much different this year. There could be a slow start to CA produce season due to flooding damage in some places, but the outlook for the western growing season is vastly better than the past few years.

Reservoirs are filling and snowpacks in CA are near record levels. The stark contrast in the US Drought Monitor from last year to current conditions clearly shows western fruit and vegetable produce volumes are likely to be significantly higher this year as the wet season has brought some much-needed relief. This should gradually boost reefer spot loads as overall spot capacity is contracting. We see this as a key part of the formula for rates to bottom in the near term.”

He added, “At cycle bottoms, the inflection can center around driver capacity, which has slowed sharply recently. As 2023 progresses, we expect driver demographics, drug testing, and low spot rates to increasingly shift the market balance.”

Truck Transportation Employment

Denoyer concluded, “The decline in DOT operating authorities that started in October 2022 is more evidence of progress in the bottoming process. The truckload driver population has nearly stopped growing and we think it will start to contract y/y by second half of 2023, setting up the next driver shortage. We’re not there yet, but BLS trucking employment in February was slightly below last August.”

ACT Research: Freight Forecast

The monthly 58-page ACT Freight Forecast report 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 TL, LTL, and intermodal markets over a two- to three-year time horizon, including capacity, volumes, and rates. The Freight Forecast provides unmatched detail on the freight rate outlook, helping companies across the supply chain plan with greater visibility and less uncertainty.

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.

Click below to access:

More information about ACT’s Freight Forecast, U.S. Rate and Volume OUTLOOK.

Information about ACT’s freight-related databases.

February’s Freight Forecast press release.

ACT’s In the News page.

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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.