News #61 - US shippers 'sensitive' to overstocking inventories


US shippers and trucking companies are increasingly optimistic about the direction of the freight economy, but a more cautious approach to inventories may dampen future freight demand. 

The BlueGrace Logistics Confidence Index, released Monday, shows steady growth in negative shipper sentiment on inventories through the third quarter of 2024 despite a positive outlook for revenue growth. 

Nearly a quarter (21%) of shipper respondents had a negative view of inventory for the third quarter compared with just 8% for the first quarter. Concurrently, the percentage of respondents with a positive view of inventory growth over the next two quarters dropped to 41% from 51%. 

“From a secular trend standpoint, it’s possible shippers are sensitive to overstocking and adopting leaner inventory practices,” Jason Lockard, senior vice president of sales at BlueGrace, told the Journal of Commerce Monday. “The BlueGrace Logistics Confidence Index shows a no-build-and-hold inventory approach for the third quarter among shippers surveyed, thus indicating tighter control of their largest cost center.” 

S&P Global supply chain research also shows US shipper inventory strategies in flux. The percentage of companies discussing inventories in a neutral way reached 19% in the first quarter, the highest proportion since the first quarter of 2020, according to S&P Global, parent company of the Journal of Commerce.

That suggests “a rising minority of firms are not yet sure how to structure their inventories,” S&P Global Head of Supply Chain Research Chris Rogers said in a report. 

Lockard said the BlueGrace index suggests freight demand in the third quarter “will be similar to current levels today.” But a first-quarter survey by Bloomberg and trucking load board operator Truckstop shows small fleets and owner-operators expect volumes to rise. 

Although 62% of the carriers surveyed reported lower freight volumes in the first quarter, 33% said they expect demand to increase in the next three to six months, Truckstop said in a statement publishing the survey results last week. 

Loads hauled by the carriers surveyed dropped 10% year over year in the first quarter compared with a 13% decline in the fourth quarter. Only 19% of the respondents expected freight demand would drop over the next three to six months, however. 

“We’re all eagerly anticipating a more positive shift in the tide,” said Truckstop CEO Kendra Tucker said in the statement. 


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