ACT Research: US Freight Cycle Near Bottom as Capacity Begins to Tighten

ACT Research Co.
3 min readMay 16, 2023

The freight cycle remains clearly weak, according to the latest release of the ACT Freight Forecast, U.S. Rate and Volume OUTLOOK report, but there are rays of light at the end of the tunnel. ACT sees the tightly intertwined supply and demand dynamics in the freight market beginning to recover with demand fundamentals improving and capacity starting to tighten.

“With produce season arriving late this year and the freight market likely passing the peak of the destock, freight demand is near the bottom,” shared Tim Denoyer, ACT Research’s Vice President and Senior Analyst. “With inflation easing, improving real income trends will allow for a bit more holiday spending this year, when even less destocking will mean more freight volume.”

graph of DOT Operating Authorities data from January 2006 through April 2023
DOT Operating Authorities April 2023

Regarding fleet capacity, Denoyer added, “Interstate operating authorities are contracting at a record rate, with about 11,000 net revocations since last October, including about 1,600 net revocations in April. Total revocations were about 10,800 in April, near record levels, though grants and reinstatements are also elevated. This is beginning to tighten capacity, which will also help spot rates find the bottom and begin to rise.”

a graph with long-distance truck transportation employment data from January 2010 through March 2023
Truck Transportation Employment — Long-Distance March 2023

He continued, “Long-distance trucking employment is also contracting, as long-haul trucking jobs declined by 8,700 jobs in Q1’23, or 1.0%. While still up 3.0% y/y in that latest March data point, the series will be down on a y/y basis by June on its current level. Since trends in employment follow trends in freight rates, long-haul jobs are set to decline this year.”

Denoyer concluded, “The intersection of additional volume and tightening capacity underpins our forecast for a near-term bottom in spot truckload rates. We’ve been expecting the bottom roughly around this month since we introduced 2023 spot rate forecasts 16 months ago, and we still think Roadcheck this week will help usher in a new freight cycle.”

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.

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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.