"Several factors have converged to overwhelm the trucking market. Freight volumes in December hit near-record levels for that time of year, on the back of a strengthening economy," Jennifer Smith reports for The Wall Street Journal. "Retailers are replenishing stocks after one of the strongest holiday sales seasons in recent years. Manufacturers are also shipping more cargo; in December, industrial production had the largest year-over-year gain since 2010, according to the Federal Reserve."
Other factors: the "bomb cyclone" earlier this month dramatically slowed down shipping, and a federal safety law passed in December, which obliged truck drivers to keep stricter tabs on their hours behind the wheel, made deliveries take longer, which increased freight fees. And diesel prices are near a three-year high, so fueling the trucks is also more expensive. "Literally every possible thing that could be going against a shipper is happening right now," Michael Redisch, a principal at Chicago-based freight broker Atomic Transport LLC, told Smith.
Trucking fleets are adding new trucks, but that can take months or years to catch up with the demand. Analysts expect trucks to become scarcer in April, when produce shipments pick up and full enforcement of the driver safety rule kicks in, Smith reports.