Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Coming Capacity Crunch. Y2K All Over Again? UPDATED: Added Former Government Officials

I must admit I do believe there is a capacity crunch coming but I am also starting to get very skeptical.  Does this sound like the "Y2K" scare all over again?  There is a cabal of vested interests in creating this scare.  Too many people are profiting from the scare. Here is my quick inventory:

1) Carriers:  By scaring the hell out of people they are trying to raise rates in advance of costs.  Carriers will say they want to raise rates to "protect capacity" but then when you look to see what is being done with that money, it is essentially being pocketed.  Driver wages have not moved one bit.  I might understand if the money was going to driver wages but it is not.  Where is it going?

2) Consultants:  Lots being built on this just like the consulting of Y2K.  Create a crisis then charge a lot of money to help solve the crisis. 

3) Leasing Companies:  The story goes that the capacity crunch is on and so you will want to look more to dedicated fleets. Voila!  We have a solution for you if you will just lease these trucks for 5 years. 

4) Trade organizations:  Their story is in order to stay in front of the capacity crunch you have to join and pay fees to attend special seminars like "What to do when the capacity crunch hits".  There are thousands of these seminars and they do not amount to much.

5) Former Government Officials:  This is the best part of the entire cabal.  There are former government officials (Link is provided as an illustration of the revolving door between government appointee then consultant.. I do not personally know Mr. Burnley) who are directly complicit in forming the laws which most likely will cause an artificial capacity constraint (i.e, tinkering with the HOS rules).  They then leave government and make a lucrative career out of consulting on how to deal with the problem they helped create in the first place. 

Unlike Y2K where the narrative was a technical issue (turned out not), this issue is purely economics.  The key question is at what point will capacity come back to the market and what will be the market clearing equilibrium price for services.  Further, what will be the alternatives and when will the costs get to the point where alternatives are used by the shippers. 

I am not saying this is not real but like most things it probably is getting very over-hyped as an entire industry appears to be building around the anticipation of the event rather than the actual event.  

I also wonder, from an antitrust standpoint, how much of this is the carrier base "signaling" to their competitors of intentions.  They clearly are publicly signaling their intention of decreasing capacity and raising rates.  Something perhaps someone should look in to.  

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