Monday October 16, 2017
Trucking companies are convincing shippers to pay more to move freight, but difficulty finding drivers could weigh on earnings.
Analysts expect rising driver pay and storm disruptions to eat into what would otherwise be stronger third-quarter results for truckload carriers. The freight market has picked up as manufacturing activity expands and retailers restock inventories in advance of the holiday season. For-hire truck tonnage jumped 8.2% in August compared with the same time in 2016, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the American Trucking Associations.
Meanwhile, trucking capacity has tightened after a long stretch when too many big-rigs were competing for cargo. Hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Florida have exacerbated the crunch, diverting trucks from other regions and sending prices soaring on the spot market, where companies book transportation on a daily basis.
On Friday J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., JBHT -2.28% one of the largest U.S. freight carriers and the first major fleet to report results this quarter, said net earnings fell 8.2% in the third quarter. The company cited storm disruptions and accelerating driver wages and recruitment costs, among other factors.
J.B. Hunt shares fell 4% to $104.01 on Friday, and the company’s weaker-than-expected results sent other trucking stocks lower. Schneider National Inc. shares were down 2.1%, while Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc. shares fell 3.1%.
Tighter capacity is normally good for carriers, which see profits soar along with the rates they charge shippers. But some fleets have indicated they are struggling to find enough drivers.
“You’ll hear a lot about the driver shortage, empty trucks, and declining fleet count” during third-quarter earnings, said Stephens Inc. analyst Brad Delco. “The trucks that had drivers in the seats, I’m sure they were as busy as could be.”
Truckers tend to be older on average than workers in other sectors, such as construction. Fewer young people are entering the profession even as older drivers move closer to retirement age, creating added pressure on supply.