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Trailer orders down, Class 8 bloat expands

“Severe weakness” seen for both commercial equipment categories, analysts says.

The supply of Class 8 trucks increased far faster than demand for the fifth time this year, according data tracked by ACT Research Co., while trailer orders dropped 25% from June to July and are now at less than half the amount reported at the same time in 2015.

“Despite the fact that the summer months are generally weak seasonally, semi-trailer orders and production … will continue to ‘catch up’ to the more severe weakness seen in Class 8 equipment,” noted Michael Baudendistel, vice president of Stifel Financial Corp.’s transportation & logistics research group, in a statement.

He added that the 51% year-over-year change in orders for trailers is “relatively in line” with Class 8 truck orders – down 57% year-over-year – which is “a dynamic we have been awaiting as we have long expected that semi-trailer orders could only ‘defy gravity’ for so long by outperforming Class 8 tractor orders.”

ACT’s preliminary estimate for U.S. net trailer orders for the month of July is 9,950 units, well down from 13,532 orders in June – more than twice the normal seasonal decline and a “somewhat steeper decline than we had anticipated,” Stifel’s Baundenistel said.

On the Class 8 side of the ledger, Kenny Vieth, ACT’s president and senior analyst, noted in a statement that the balance between supply and demand is “still under attack” from the widespread macro-inventory overhang.

“Apparently the results of May and June showing demand rising faster than supply were a temporary anomaly and not the beginning of a trend,” he added.

In terms of trailer, Frank Maly, ACT’s director CV transportation analysis & research, pointed out that while July is the industry’s “weakest order month from a seasonal perspective,” results appear to be impacted by both seasonal and cyclical pressures.

“New order placement was weak, as fleets continue to evaluate their investment plans in the face of a lackluster economy and resulting impact on both freight rates and volumes,” Maly noted.

John Larkin, managing director and head of transportation capital markets research at Stifel, added that this situation is not going to change anytime soon – at least not for a year, maybe two.

“So we are now in a position, here in 2016, when supply and demand is roughly in balance and supply chain disruptions have been minimal,” he explained in one of the firm’s recent research notes.

“There are currently no tremendous shortages of capacity like those shippers were coping with last year,” Larkin said. “As it turns out, we may have to wait another year or two before we see the next round of disruption, which will probably be generated by the latest round of government regulations that are aimed to make the trucking industry safer.”

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