CEO Freight Market Predictions for 2024
Freight CEOs analyze current trends and provide insider knowledge to project the freight market's trajectory in 2024.
At the beginning of 2023, we asked three freight CEOs for their predictions for this past year. Building on that, we present an even more robust outlook for 2024, featuring predictions from seven expert CEOs in the logistics sector. These seasoned professionals analyze current trends and provide insider knowledge to project the freight market's trajectory in 2024.
Steve Cox, President of Steam Logistics
2023 was a tough year for so many but this year might just be something we look back on and say, “We did our best work in 2023.” 2024 is going to have some real competition if it wants to be the market’s worst year. I truly believe we have seen a bottom. Capacity is leaving the market but slower than we expected it to be flushed out. Because of that, I believe a mid-year pickup could be the best we can expect with inventory levels continuing to diminish.
We also believe consumer demand is a factor - if it drops dramatically due to a real recession, the turnaround could be postponed past mid-year, though we see that as a low-level probability.
Matt O'Mara, CEO of Whimsy Intermodal
Anticipating a rebound in freight activity during the second and third quarters of 2024, driven by heightened manufacturing levels resulting from depleted retail inventories in 2023 and a more gradual economic recovery than initially projected. The trucking industry's capacity is undergoing a healthy cycle characterized by the gradual elimination of businesses that emerged during the COVID-19 era, contributing to a projected gradual tightening of capacity in 2024. Despite concerns over a $1 trillion credit card debt and elevated delinquency rates, consumer stability remains evident, fostering optimism for resilience throughout 2024 for stable consumer spending. Margins, which have experienced a consistent decline, are expected to show modest improvement in the contractual and spot rate market, though not reaching the levels observed in 2020 or 2021. Business expenses, excluding stable and low fuel costs, encompassing factors such as insurance, labor, cost of capital, and professional services, have witnessed a notable increase, exerting pressure on net profit. This trend is anticipated to persist into 2024. We continue to see instability in the supply chain due to international wars and conflicts.
Nicole Glenn, Founder & CEO of Candor Expedite
We’re looking at how long this shipper's market will stick around. Summer threw us a curveball with those high fuel prices, but fall brought some relief, and it looks like that trend will carry on into winter. The word on the street is that the shipper's market scene could keep rolling until at least the latter part of 2024, maybe even longer. But here's the kicker – the shift to a carrier's market is up in the air. It depends on how the world deals with conflicts, economic ups and downs, and environmental factors like El Niño causing low water levels. Oh, and let's not forget the wild card – election years can throw a curveball in the transportation game. So, while we're riding this shipper's market wave, it's probably a good call to be ready for things to shift down the line but not yet.
Steve Kochan, President of HaulPay
I'm looking at the year ahead with hope and encouragement. There should be plenty of opportunity for tech and automation-enabled, efficient operators of both carrier brokerage businesses. I expect the market rates to continue to bounce around the "bottom" that we have settled at for some more time. Expect the goods economy to stay in a cool stasis. I do not believe we will see a fast and early surge into higher rates and less supply. Specialty finance options, like HaulPay, will continue to be an attractive alternative to higher interest rate capital loans and riskier balance sheet-based debt options. It is hard to know when the Fed will cut interest rates, but I think most will agree it is implausible that they will be increasing in 2024. Stay lean, efficient, and laser-focused on what you do best, and 2024 will be a great year to springboard yourself into a better long-term position. Cheers and good luck in 2024!
Dennis Brown, Founder of Freight Broker Boot Camp
3 big factors are interest rates, price of oil and the fact that it's an election year. I see freight tonnage increasing and rates to follow start q2/q3. The market has self-corrected the supply and demand delta, so most of the bad news and headlines are in the rear-view mirror.
Tim Higham, CEO of AscendTMS
Hold on tight, as 2024 is going to SUCK even more than 2023. For Freight Caviar readers, you may recall that my 2023 forecast was pretty dire, and I hate to say it, but I was 100% right. As the CEO of AscendTMS, I have a unique and real-time insight into the SMB space in trucking, brokerage, and freight volumes. Today, we have over 56,630 customers using AscendTMS, and I can tell you that profit margins are down, rates are down, employee counts are down, and net-new business formation is down (technically, net-new business formation is actually negative as the few people starting new freight related businesses are being swamped in number by those closing up shop). But, there is a little hope for you if you can hold on in 2024. My educated guess is that by the end of 2024 we’ll see things getting better, as the majority of the excess capacity – and those that didn’t squirrel away their profits when times were good in 2020-2022 - will largely have left the market, meaning rates will rise again, and those companies remaining (you, I hope) will once again be able to make a decent living. Until then, what can you do? Well, you can deploy proven high-value technology that reduces your daily costs and increases your profits (like AscendTMS, of course, wink wink), you should conserve your cash (you don’t need new laptops this year), you should shed debt (or restructure it ASAP), you should fire non-profitable customers (yes – you heard me – fire the customers that are killing you if they won’t play ball), and, always remember that MUCH better times are ahead if you can hold on to 2025!
Nate Cross, Co-Founder of Freight360
I’ve seen rates start to slowly creep up over the past couple of months and I expect this will continue into 2024. With companies continuing to close, the gap between supply and demand will shrink and lead us back to a sense of normalcy, but not overnight. Fed interest rates and economic policy coming from Washington DC will be a major player in how quickly shipping demand will rebound, but we seem to be heading in the right direction. The market will always fluctuate as it historically has, and there are opportunities for freight brokers in every market. Shippers’ priorities can change depending on where the market is, but the need for trucking capacity will always remain.