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The year 2024 has begun with multiple challenges in the freight transportation industry.

DAT Freight & Analytics reports that the road freight transportation market continues to show sluggishness, even in February. This trend is attributed to decreased demand and the ongoing reduction in fleet capacity. Contradictory signals are observed in the market, influenced by post-pandemic variables that are affecting freight transportation in unusual ways.

The year 2024 has begun with multiple challenges in the transportation industry, especially in freight and spot markets. This slowdown is the result of a variety of factors, ranging from usual seasonal downturns to inflation, interest rates, and the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Low season for freight transportation

According to Fleet Owner, Dean Croke, DAT’s chief analyst, noted that the first quarter is always a quiet season, but this year seems even more subdued than usual. DAT’s truckload freight data for the week of February 11th to 17th reveals another week of poor performance in the market. Although demand decline in February is common, the number of loads posted on DAT One was the lowest in eight years for the seventh week of the year.

The load-to-truck ratio reached historic lows during the seventh week, while benchmark rates also decreased. The number of loads posted on DAT One decreased by 17.6% compared to week 6 of 2024, and 60% less compared to the previous year. This marks the fourth consecutive period of decline in posted loads, with a drop of nearly 47% since the third week.

On the other hand, truck posts decreased by 7.5% less than in week 7 and a 21% year-over-year decline. The number of loads per truck measured by DAT was the lowest for any seventh week since 2015.

Outlook for 2024 in the freight transportation industry

Since 2023, transport capacity has rapidly declined for four consecutive quarters, leading to a drop in rates and increased pressure on carriers’ profit margins. As operating costs have risen, many carriers are reducing their capacity or exiting the market.

Croke warns that if rates continue to decline at the current pace, there could be a rapid reduction in capacity and a significant correction in rates. In other words, operators remaining in the business may be forced to exit.

He emphasizes that the market is likely to experience a decrease in the number of available trucks, posing a risk to shippers as this correction could be abrupt. Experienced operators who have effectively managed their operating costs are more likely to survive these challenges compared to newcomers.

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