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Trailer maker Wabash pulls ahead despite signs of cooling economy

Trailer pools and stable backlog point to higher income and margins

Wabash sees strong prospects ahead despite a cooling economy. (Photo: Wabash)

A renamed and reorganized Wabash sees signs of economic weakening, but nothing preventing optimism for its trailer and last-mile equipment business.

“We appreciate the warning signs in the broader environment,” Wabash CEO Brent Yeagy told analysts Wednesday following the release of second-quarter earnings. 

Strong industrial production and demand for big-ticket durable goods offset tighter credit, weakening consumer sentiment and persistent supply shortages. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised interest rates three-quarters of a point for the second straight month.

If there is a recession in 2023, Yeagy said it will impact only certain parts of the economy. 

“We have seen no cancellations within our order backlog, and we are experiencing strong 2023 quote/demand and very productive 2023 demand discussions with our strategic customers, which has allowed us to open our 2023 orderbook,” he said.

Strategic approach for Wabash

Wabash (NYSE: WNC) is working with a few customers it thinks are in good shape for the next five years. Multiyear contracts cover trailer capacity, participating in future product development and parts and service. The company rebranded itself Wabash from Wabash National earlier this year and realigned its business units.

“We have a tier approach to how we are building our backlog,” Yeagy said. “It’s not just open the orderbook and let the quotes flow.”

Skittish customers find themselves near the back of the line.

“Dialing back trailer purchases during times of economic uncertainty is a recipe to ensure that you’re boxed out of participating in the prosperous times that typically follow short bouts of uncertainty.”

Trailer business model is changing 

Long known for boom-and-bust periods, trailer manufacturing is experiencing less cyclicality. One change is the growth of trailer pools to address resilient e-commerce demand. Even as consumer spending pulls back, commercial vehicle miles are replacing passenger vehicle miles because of same- and next-day delivery.

“The creation of these trailer pools results in immediate tailwinds to demand and ongoing increases to the rate of replacement,” Yeagy said. 

So far, the recurring revenue trailers-as-a-service model accounts for 10% to 15% of Wabash capacity. Its largest pool customer is J.B. Hunt. 

Earlier in July, Wabash announced a joint venture with FreightVana, a Phoenix-based logistics service. The goal is eliminating waste from the transportation ecosystem by making better use of drivers’ time and expanding drop-and-hook operations deeper into carrier operations.

Wabash: Stable order backlog

Q2 typically is the weakest of the four quarters for the trailer industry. That did not happen in the April-June period this year. Wabash maintained its backlog of orders at $2.3 billion, the same as Q1. Orders in the queue are 71% higher than a year ago.

Rising costs for materials are being passed along to end customers, Yeagy said. More inflationary increases need to be priced into 2023 orders. Manufacturers’ inability to calculate the impact of volatile commodity and material pricing delayed the opening of orderbooks.

“We wouldn’t have opened it up if we didn’t feel we would be successful in executing that,” he said. “You can take from the backlog increase that we’ve done, we’ve met our expectations and our ability to pass along pricing at an acceptable level.”

Wabash posts solid Q2 results

Wabash shipped approximately 13,670 and 3,970 new trailer and truck body shipments, respectively, during Q2. It expects better availability of chassis next year, which should lead to more truck body production. The conversion of a refrigerated van plant to dry vans will add 5,000 units of production annually in the next few years.

Consolidated Q2 revenue was a record $643 million, up 40% year over year. Gross margin was 12.1% of sales. The operating margin came in at 5.6%. Net income was $22.6 million or 46 cents per diluted share. Wabash maintained its full-year per share earnings estimate at $1.90.

“We continue to assume that present supply chain conditions persist through the remainder of 2022,” CFO Michael Pettit said.

Still, Wabash anticipates Q3 revenue of $620 million to $660 million and earnings per share of 55 cents to 60 cents.

“The overall trailer and freight-related industries are going to have nice demand tailwinds going into ’23 that are going to buffer us all significantly,” Yeagy said.

Wabash backlog swells as trailer maker completes go-to-market makeover 

Wabash seeing promise fulfilled in final-mile body business

Knight-Swift says trucking downturn would favor carriers with larger trailer pools 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.