Werner CEO Says Freight Market Is Returning to Normal

Derek Leathers Tells Wells Fargo 2024 Industrials Conference That Freight Market Is Nearing an Inflection Point
Derek Leathers
Derek Leathers in 2022. (Transport Topics)

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Werner Enterprises CEO Derek Leathers said patterns emerging in the cargo marketplace point to a long-awaited adjustment that could help lift trucking out of its persistent freight recession.

“Inventory levels in general are now more normalized,” Leathers said during a June 11 presentation at the Wells Fargo 2024 Industrials Conference in Chicago. “As people and retailers are selling through goods, they’re back into a replenishment cycle that we haven’t seen in a couple of years. And that can be very meaningful as we set up for this coming fall and peak season.”

The trucking industry has been in a down cycle for nearly two years, with capacity well overshooting freight demand. While Leathers noted that consumer demand has maintained relatively well during that stretch, there are no signs of a forthcoming spending surge. “We’re not banking on any kind of significant uptick in consumer behavior, nor are we assuming that the consumer suddenly goes silent,” Leathers said.

He noted that it has taken retailers some time to reset their inventories in the wake of the topsy-turvy demand trends that defined the post-COVID economy.


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“Everyone got their inventories out of whack post-COVID no matter how good they were as a retailer,” Leathers said. “But the really good retailers have gotten back to normalized levels. They feel like they’re where they need to be — that they don’t have any sort of bloat left over. Now they’re back to normal replenishment. So, as they sell through, they’re replenishing and preparing for what could look like a more normalized fall. Those are all encouraging signs.”

Leathers added that this year’s bid season has been an improvement over a 2023 cycle marked by a tremendous amount of churn as carriers tried to hold firm on pricing.

“This year, it’s been a more stable approach,” Leathers said. “There’s still some pressure on price, still some pressure through the process, but much less churn. That is an indication that everybody — both sides, so to speak — are realizing we’re closer to an inflection point. So, it’s not a great time to go shuffle your deck dramatically in terms of your carrier provider.”

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Werner, he added, is going to hold steady.

“From a rate perspective we’re going to be disciplined,” Leathers said. “We’ve been public about that. I don’t think the industry has any more to give. Whether the industry chooses to or not, we don’t, and we’re not.”

Werner ranks No. 17 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America and No. 30 on the TT Top 100 largest logistics companies list.