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Slowdown merits no panic for owner-operators, but pay attention to the basics

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Updated Nov 4, 2020

Weighing today’s trucking market is best done with proper perspective, say speakers from ATBS, the nation’s largest owner-operator financial services firm.

“Last year was complete anomaly,” said Mike Hosted, ATBS vice president of business development. “This year is slow, but it’s just as good as many past years.”

Hosted and ATBS President Todd Amen spoke at Overdrive’s Partners in Business seminars Friday and Saturday at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

For owner-operators in 2018, Amen said, “it paid for me to be out running my own business under my own authority.” Indeed, many leased operators made that change in 2016-2018, and the rate differential was sufficient to cover the extra costs and responsibilities of running independently.

Now that’s often not the case, Amen said. In addition, liability insurance rates have skyrocketed, especially for new independents.

The high demand of 2018 made it profitable to run load boards, where load-to-truck ratios were off the charts. Now, “You can’t just run load boards to make money.  There’s too much capacity on there now,” he said, though rates have dropped enough that they might rebound a bit this year.

Another indicator of the boom that culminated in 2018 was cost control. For the first time in many years, owner-operators’ average miles per gallon receded from the prior year. “That means drivers didn’t pay attention to fuel costs – they were making enough money,” Amen said.

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