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October 21, 2013 10:00 AM, EDT

Economy, Trucking to Improve in 2014, Analysts Say

Tom Biery/Trans Pixs

ORLANDO, Fla. — Trucking and U.S. economic trends continue along a familiar path of slow, steady improvement that is likely to carry into next year, three industry experts said.

“I don’t think we are going to see a dramatic change in 2014 from 2013,” Mark Vitner, managing director and chief economist at Wells Fargo, said Oct. 20 during American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition here.

He predicts gross domestic product will grow at a 2.4% rate next year, moving slightly above this year’s projected 2.2% pace.

Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist, offered a similar perspective, citing 0.5% year-over-year growth in the industry’s predominant freight sector — dry van truckload. He also said revenue per mile has been flat this year for truckload fleets because of rising driver and equipment costs.

“The market is very choppy,” he said. “Fleets tell me business is great for two weeks and then goes off a cliff.”

Costello said the market is likely to change when there are two or three consecutive quarters of economic growth above 3%, stimulating more demand for freight.

That economic pickup, in which timing wasn’t specified, will create a “capacity crunch” for an industry that now is about in equilibrium between supply and demand.

Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research, reinforced the theme from the equipment market perspective.

“We are right now in the midst of the great OK,” Vieth said, describing the U.S. truck market.

Sales are almost identical to replacement demand of 192,000 units, as fleets delay purchases for fear of adding too much capacity before a marked economic upturn, he said.

Additional economic coverage will be included in the Oct. 28 print edition of Transport Topics.