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KeyBanc warns investors of a ‘trucking winter’ amid anemic economic conditions

Trucks stranded in Virginia on Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Get ready for the “trucking winter.”

KeyBanc’s Todd Fowler and Carney Blake, who are the group’s airfreight and logistics analysts, wrote in a Thursday note that freight activity has been “seasonally weak.” 

There’s been “limited indication” of the typical peak season activity that carriers and shippers expect in the fall as retailers prepare for the holiday season, Fowler and Blake wrote. Weak containerized imports underline the possibility that we won’t have a full peak season. 

For public trucking companies, KeyBanc’s team is expecting results for the third quarter and estimates for 2023 to be “weaker.” The team downgraded trucking giants J.B. Hunt and Schneider. 

Spot rates have already declined by 30% compared to last year, Fowler and Blake wrote. And now, they’re expecting trucking’s larger contract market to suffer as well — to the tune of mid-single-digit percentage declines. 

“[G]iven macro pressures to slow economic demand and the potential related impact on freight activity, we are more inclined to prepare for a ‘trucking winter’ before a ‘trucking spring,’” they wrote.

Is trucking’s ‘Great Purge’ ahead? 

Some trucking insiders believe the industry is headed for the “Great Purge” or even a “bloodbath.”

Part of that is thanks to unusually high inventory levels at retailers like Target, Kohl’s, Walmart and Amazon. Many retailers appear to have prepared for the holiday season earlier this year, anticipating disruptions in importing goods from manufacturing hubs in East Asia. 

However, the growth in consumer demand has slumped from 2021, and it’s left retailers with more stock than they may have anticipated. That means the traditional peak season that carriers experience each fall may be muted

Meanwhile, spot rates in America’s $800 billion trucking industry have collapsed in 2022. According to the FreightWaves National Truckload Index, spot rates have declined by nearly 33% from the beginning of this year to the beginning of October. Meanwhile, the costs to run a trucking company, particularly fuel spending, have only increased — putting the pressure on small truckers in particular to make ends meet.

This decline is driven both by overcapacity, in which too many truck drivers jumped into the red-hot market of 2021, and softening demand.

Spot rates are now 25%-30% below contract rates, KeyBanc’s analysts wrote. Usually, those rates are 5%-10% above the contract market — and that’s why the team believes contract rates will decline by mid-single digits.

Do you work in trucking? Are you seeing the “trucking winter”? Email [email protected].


  1. James Vuyancih

    I am a truck driver. I have seen that the states and the country have made it so impossible to get a commercial driver’s license [CDL] for young people today. My bosses are finding it almost impossible to find a CDL driver. We have gone from hundreds of applicants looking for a job to a handful of drivers that can even qualify. This is a huge issue but nobodies talking about it.

  2. Bobby

    I’m an independent trucker in North west Indiana outside of Chicago, the trucking market is hurting us especially the small independent owner operator, the rates are probably 45-50%lower with the mileage of shipments have increased. Fuel is or has doubled since 2021 yet not increased in pay rates to cover moving Freight. I would run a 268 miles last you for around 4.85 to 5.50 a mile fuel cost where in the 2.35 to 2.85 a gal now it close to 6.00 it take me to operate my truck at 1.88 a mile it hard and considering parking I can’t operate at being paid 2.00 to 2.86 a mile. Something has to hive or this industry especially private owner operator small fleet.

      1. ThagearJammer258

        Your perception of others is a reflection of your self. Big rapid changes. A small company is much more nimble. By his numerical logic your right it’s impossible. Be creative. Lotsa costs in trucking. Try looking at a per day rate vs per mile. The last of our freedoms is our perspective.

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Rachel Premack

Rachel Premack is the editorial director at FreightWaves. She writes the newsletter MODES. Her reporting on the logistics industry has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Vox, and additional digital and print media. She's also spoken about her work on PBS Newshour, ABC News, NBC News, NPR, and other major outlets. If you’d like to get in touch with Rachel, please email her at [email protected] or [email protected].