Capacity growth among carriers remains flat

The second-quarter Transport Capital Partners (TCP) survey reveals around two-thirds of carriers planning to add capacity, nearly identical numbers to 1Q 2013 and 2Q 2012.

In the second-quarter survey, 65 percent of carriers indicated they plan to increase capacity. This presents no notable change from first-quarter 2013 and second-quarter 2012 percentages.

Carriers also remain conservative in their estimates for how much capacity they will add. Over three-quarters of carriers plan to add little (1-5 percent) or no capacity in the coming 12 months – very little change, again, from first-quarter 2013 and second-quarter 2012 numbers. Only 24 percent of carriers planned capacity increases of more than 5 percent.

The very modest optimism regarding rate and volume expectations continues to influence whether carriers will add capacity, and, if so, to what degree.

"Carriers continue to voice concerns about the 'headwinds' impacting operations and returns, but aging fleets and still relatively low interest rates are clearly offsetting factors," observed Richard Mikes, TCP partner.     

Larger carriers are more cautious than smaller carriers in their buying plans. Just 19 percent of larger carriers plan to add more than 5 percent capacity. Among smaller carriers, 36 percent intend such capacity increases.

TRAC Leases Most Common

The most commonly reported method for adding future capacity is through company equipment that is either financed or purchased on a TRAC Lease. Thirty-four percent of carriers indicated this as their most likely option.

"TRAC leasing rates are lower as lessors pass through the benefits of accelerated depreciation, with carriers giving these tax breaks to lessors (banks and leasing companies) for such rates - attractive particularly when carriers may not have enough profits to utilize them," stated Steven Dutro, TCP partner.

Over the past three years, the percentage of carriers intending to add capacity through the use of independent contractors has decreased by 50 percent, from 30 percent to 15 percent. Smaller companies are more likely than larger carriers to still seek out independent contractors (21 percent vs 13 percent).

"Contractors left the industry as their profits and cashflows were depressed in the recession, and many are not interested in returning, even as more carriers offer lease purchase plans to attract them," noted Richard Mikes.

Just 8 percent of larger carriers intend to add capacity by buying an existing company's fleet. Adding capacity through buying used trucks has declined from 8 percent in October 2011 to 0 percent today.