COEUR D’ALENE, ID. A representative from investment banking firm Stephens Inc. delivered a cautiously optimistic outlook for the trucking industry at the 23rd annual meeting of the Truckload Carrier Assn. (TCA) Refrigerated Division, which is being held at a resort beside northern Idaho’s famous Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Thomas Albrecht, managing director of Stephens, said the forecast was “Partly Sunny versus Partly Cloudy,” characterized by tight freight capacity with at least some shippers willing to pay rate premiums as high as 6% to 8% over the past several months. He warned that the end of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007 “could feel more challenging,” but rates could subsequently bounce back to current levels.

Reviewing key trends, he also touched on some industry challenges, including:

  • All the “traditional levers have been pulled” when it comes to recruiting and retaining drivers and that the population demographics in the U.S. are contributing to the labor shortage problem because the number of people age 20-44 has been declining.
  • It was actually easier to find drivers during the economic downturn, but now there are more job choices for workers.
  • Productivity (mileage utilization) has been stagnant for a decade.
  • Despite three very good years, not all carriers have healthy margins.
  • There has been an increase in truck repossessions since the second quarter of 2005, probably largely driven by rising fuel costs.
  • While factory shipments of reefer units remain high, the average age of trailers also remains fairly high, in part because the new hours-of-service rules have increased the ration of trailers to tractors.
  • Electronic onboard data recorders (EOBRs) are coming.

    The American Trucking Assns.’ assistant general and environmental counsel, Glen Kedzie, wrapped up the first day’s general session with a look at California’s environmental initiatives, especially moves to regulate diesel particulates.

    Trucking in the Round sessions, which began yesterday morning, covered topics from mobile communications and trailer tracking to accessorial methodologies and auxiliary power units.

    Chairman, John Kaburick, president of Earl L. Henderson Trucking, Inc., kicked off the first general session with welcoming remarks, followed by TCA president, Chris Burruss, who reviewed the programs, projects and changes taking place at TCA, including the organization’s move to a new headquarters in Alexandria, VA, scheduled for mid-August.

    The meeting is scheduled to wrap up today with a presentation by General Barry McCaffrey (Ret.) on “The War on Terrorism—A Global Concern.”

    TCA expects attendance to set new records: approximately 350 people registered for this year’s event.