February trailer orders add to the growing bullish pile of data

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Trailer orders in February were just one more entry into a ledger that shows a strong economy and a strong trucking market.

According to research and consulting company FTR, preliminary orders for trailers in February were 32,000 units. That’s the fifth consecutive month above 30,000 units, FTR said, and it also would mark a record for February if the final data supports the preliminary estimates.

Don Ake, FTR’s vice president of commercial vehicles, said trailer statistics have some advantages over truck sales numbers in interpreting the strength of the market. 

“More people in the industry follow the truck data, because trucks are more expensive, there are more components and it’s more interesting,” he said. “But from an economic point of view, trailers are an interesting thing to watch, because it’s not as biased or impacted by outside factors.”

For example, changes in rules such as emissions data can impact truck sales–boosting them prior to the rule kicking in, and then depressing them immediately after–but such factors don’t impact trailers, Ake said. “Trailers are usually more economically driven, and they are better indicators of how the economy is going.”

FTR said the 32,000 units were 24% more than in February of the prior year. They were down 20% from January, but Ake said the January numbers were “tremendously higher.” What’s more significant is the record performance in February relative to other Februarys. 

“Fleets are scrambling to add capacity and are ordering large numbers of trucks and trailers,” Ake said in a prepared statement. “Most of these orders are for the second half of the year.  This is good news for the economy and the industry in that carriers expect the solid freight demand to last throughout 2018.” 

The FTR report also said that the industry backlog–orders that OEMs have placed but where the product has not been built–are also looking strong. Ake said it should reach 170,000 units soon, hitting that level for the first time since early 2016.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.