Trucking volumes have been spiking in the U.S. over the past few weeks in response to the mass quantities of water, paper products and other household goods that consumers have been purchasing in preparation for a worsening coronavirus outbreak. In early March, trucking volumes increased by 9.3 percent – hitting a level that we normally don’t see outside of peak holiday seasons.
As the virus (and public reaction to it) continues to get more serious, demand will likely stay up for at least a few more weeks as stores struggle to keep their shelves stocked. Because much of this volume is coming from the movement of inventory from warehouses and distribution centers into storefronts, the greatest impact is on local and regional carriers – many of which are struggling to keep up with demand. There has been less of an impact for long-haul truckers. While demand for regional deliveries increased by 13 percent, loads being moved more than 450 miles saw a more modest 4.7% volume increase.
For now, at least, inventory has been able to keep up with demand. Between recent trade war concerns and the influx of freight that was recently brought into the United States in preparation for the Chinese New Year, inventory levels going into March were actually higher than normal – a good thing under the circumstances.
But while these higher-than-usual inventory levels are good for now, the concern is that levels will fall too fast – and that we won’t be able to replenish stock levels if they do start to run dry. Imports are low, which will drastically reduce the volume of goods coming into the country. The bigger unknown, is whether domestic production will also slow down in an effort to contain the virus’ spread.
Should this happen, these historically high trucking volumes we’re currently seeing could start to decline as we head into the spring and early summer. There are still too many unknowns about the spread of the virus in the United States, as well as the public reaction to it, to know for sure what the future holds. Given how large of a role trucking plays in our nation’s economy, however, the industry can expect to feel the impact over the coming months – for better or worse.
About the Author
Lindsey Bergeron is Editor of the Foley blog. Serving as transportation guru, she keeps an eye on the industry and its day-to-day evolution and developments, specifically writing about the various lifestyle, business and regulatory topics that are most relevant to motor carriers. Holding a degree in Journalism and Political Science from the University of Connecticut, she ran a successful content marketing firm before joining Foley at its Hartford hub. Her current expertise in transportation writing is built upon an extensive background in editing, feature writing and content development.