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ATA chief economist highlights mixed outlook for trucking

American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello told fleet executives that freight volumes continue to be varied, depending on the sector and trucking's outlook will be cloudy in the months ahead.

“As far as freight volumes go, the trucking economy pretty mixed right now,” Costello said at the “All Eyes on the Economy” panel during the annual Management Conference and Exhibition. “Some groups, like tank truck and flatbed, are doing very well, while conversely you have other areas like dry van that are underperforming.”

Despite the fact that volumes overall are going up, capacity “remains relatively in balance to demand,” according to Costello. “However, if the overall economy were to surprise us on the upside — with, say 3% GDP growth for several straight quarters, we would not have enough trucks to handle the corresponding increase in freight,” he said. “This speaks to the continued threat of our current quantitative driver shortage of 20,000 to 30,000 drivers potentially getting worse in the future.”

Costello said that while better than expected growth would be a surprise, generally the risk of recession or slower growth was more likely. “The biggest risk to trucking would be a back-slide into recession either because of the collapse of the Euro, or more likely, uncertainty related to the ‘fiscal cliff’ at the end of the year,” he said.

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