The graphs above are based on TCA InGauge’s compilation of financial data filed by publicly traded truckload carriers. They display how trucking companies performed in 2017 and the first half of 2018.
Some metrics stand out: Knight-Swift’s (NYSE: KNX) huge step up in net revenue after the mega-merger in the third quarter of 2017 is the biggest movement on any of the charts. Also in the third quarter of 2017, when capacity suddenly tightened in the middle of the fall peak season, Heartland Express (NASDAQ: HTLD) appeared to be caught off guard: HTLD’s cost of purchased transportation spiked, and its operating ratio soared from the low 80s to the mid 90s. Covenant Transport (NASDAQ: CVTI) experienced the same increase in purchased transportation costs in the fourth quarter of 2017, but cut salaries and wages and managed to lower its operating ratio in that quarter.
Looking further into operating ratios, we can see how seasonality affects Daseke’s (NASDAQ: DSKE) performance, when the specialized and flatbed business suffers during winter quarters. And it’s obvious at exactly which point the new capacity-constrained cycle we’re in helped accelerate USA Truck’s (NASDAQ: USAK) return to profitability as the new management team committed more capacity to the spot market. A disciplined, well-run carrier like Schneider (NYSE: SNDR) managed to grow its revenues in Q4 2017 while simultaneously lowering its operating ratio and maintaining a downward OR trajectory.