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Freight Industry Update: Fourth Quarter 2018 & 2019 Market Outlook

The market still supports premium freight rates, based on tight capacity and high demand. Is this the new normal? How long will rates stay high? Let’s consider the current market and discuss possible shifts on the horizon as we round out fourth quarter and plan for 2019.

Freight Industry Right Now

As of October, freight industry executives still reported turning down record amounts of freight. However, the disparity between spot market rates and contract rates indicate we could see capacity and demand begin to balance. To understand what is happening currently, we also need to consider the national spot market rate though. Averages are a bit down in comparison to earlier in the year, but they are still up 20% annually. Experts do feel the market is stabilized for the remainder of fourth quarter and we could start to see some balance in capacity that extends into early 2019.

Note: Winter weather storms could impact capacity and rates, similar to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which caused a spike in spot market demand in 2017.

 

The Carrier Take on Freight Rates

Ask most carriers and they will tell you they have been on the short end of the stick when it comes to trucking rates for too long. Citing more than 10 years of profit margins around pennies on the dollar. They attribute the inability to reinvest in drivers and equipment to the lack of earnings. Many believe the higher rates are the new normal, and shippers should prepare their strategies with this in mind long term.

Some recent data points from DAT may not fully align with carrier thoughts. Van, flatbed and reefer average spot market rates were down in August. However, annually the average spot prices were still up per mile: van rates 35 cents; flatbed 46 cents; reefer 31 cents.

In a recent Logistics Management article, Mark Montague, DAT pricing analyst, reminds us that “demand peaks before rates peak, with rates tending to stay up, even as things start to cool off at times.”

Note: While there have been some dips, big picture spot market conditions support the rate increases we have seen for the last couple of years.

 

4th Quarter Rates

Present contract freight rates, fourth quarter 2018, were negotiated in late 2017 and early 2018, a time that was extremely favorable to carriers with capacity low and demand high. September 2018 found a wide disparity between the average spot rate and contract rates, with average spot rates favored by 23 cents per mile.

This could indicate an upcoming shift in the demand to capacity ratio. We may begin to see the freight industry balance for shippers. Tender turn-down by carriers have not been prevalent in recent weeks and there has been success in securing lanes for contract freight. If demand does indeed begin to indicate parity, spot market rates should only be a factor for one-off shipments and short-lived spikes in demand.

Note: Driver shortage still impacts rates due to the impact on capacity crunch, but the numbers are on the rise which could help to balance the market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows driver numbers up by about 31,000.

 

2019 Freight Industry Outlook

The optimal state for the freight industry may very well be equality between supply and demand.
That balance seems like a thing of fairy tales. The winding path of the freight industry market is ongoing, impacted by carriers, shippers, consumers and the overall economy. It looks like 2019 will continue on the same curvy road. There are more than a few considerations as you prepare your strategy for the upcoming year:

  • Though trade wars are top of mind with the full impact uncertain, the strong economy looks as though it will hold.
  • There are strong indicators of freight rates continuing to rise. However the year-over-year percentage of increase should be below 2018 levels.
  • Carriers are investing in new equipment, based on the increase in sales of Class 8 trucks. This is not an indicator of more drivers necessarily, more an affirmation of trucking companies need of technology upgrades to meet regulations. Added bonus: Cutting-edge equipment is attractive to new drivers.
  • Consumers are driving changes in trucking industry operations. Shippers have shifted to more regional hubs in order to cut transit time. This has impacted the average haul distance — dropping nearly 300 miles per load since 2005.
  • Owner operators are banking on the spot market continuing to pay off. Many leaving small and large carriers to go out on their own.
  • The driver shortage is expected to remain at record levels but will taper off.
  • Capacity should loosen up just a bit with a possible double-digit percentage decrease in the volume of freight tendered.
Note: The American Trucking Associations’ Freight Forecast projected freight volumes to increase more than 35% by 2029.

 

What Can Shippers Do to Prepare?

With so much in flux that can impact you and your business’s profits, how should you navigate the freight industry peaks and valleys? Here are a few ideas:

1. Don’t forget the basics

The freight industry is cyclical, often hand-in-hand with the national stage, driven by one of the most basic economic principles: supply and demand. When we have a capacity shortage, the freight rates will negatively impact bottom lines.

2. Invest in analysis

You have your shipment data; compare it to what is happening in the market. This can help you formulate a picture that leads to a greater understanding of trends to inform your longer-term strategies.

3. Work with a 3PL

3PLs are in the best position for industry knowledge. They set pricing with both carriers and shippers. A good alliance will help you to ride the freight waves gracefully, helping your business to succeed in protecting its bottom line.

Together, we can simplify logistics. Let’s partner and create solutions for your business. Give us a call at 877.367.2324 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

 

Prepare for an RFP in 4 Steps

As a large-scale shipper, you use a request for proposal (RFP) to put freight out for bid, typically on an annual basis, correct? You are smart. This process helps keep your current freight providers on their game and gives you the opportunity to evaluate the capability of newcomers. Here are four steps that will have you well-prepared for your RFP process:

1. Get Organized

Details. And lots of them. That is the basis of a good RFP. The homework you need to do is not only for the sake of line items in the RFP but also for the alignment of your internal team. You need to work together to define the ideal outcome of the process. Once you are in lockstep regarding what a successful RFP looks like, there will be numerous facts to gather and decisions to make. You should get a jump start on these:

  • Know your annual freight spend and volume
    • When you can, break your spend out by mode. This will help pinpoint your savings potential and give you data to measure against.
  • Profile your freight in detail
    • The particulars will help freight providers create tailored solutions for you. Document your freight’s handling requirements, load time, standard weights, pickup and delivery times. Providers will also want to know if you have driver-friendly facilities and how quickly you pay. It is also beneficial to document the efficiency of your check-in and check-out process.
  • Outline the full objectives of your RFP in your clear and concise bid package
    • This is where you define your expectations for the RFP. What do you hope to achieve? Freight services want to provide the information you are looking for. This will help both your organization and those invited to bid to act with intention throughout the process.  
  • Set the number of bid rounds
    • The number of rounds in the RFP process helps those bidding understand your communication cadence and informs their own strategy in regard to winning your business.

Pro tip! Gather visuals of the products you ship. Part of your job is to make your freight attractive to the service provider. They need to want to move your freight.

2. Determine the Participants

Your carrier strategy likely includes a mix of carriers and third-party logistics companies (3PLs) — small, large, national, regional. The tender percentage awarded to each is deliberate and likely based on the requirements of your freight. Bring this same thought process as you determine the invite list of your RFP. You want a good mix to help you thrive in a changing logistics landscape. Balance this group based on fit with your supply chain operations.

The RFP process is the perfect opportunity to evaluate your incumbent shipping services against potential new providers — how they compare on rates as well as overall fit in your strategy. Remember, these partners can make a large impact on how customers view your reliability. So, once you have your carrier mix determined, go ahead and prepare your list of hard-hitting questions:

  • How does our freight fit into your network?
  • Where will we rank among your clients in freight spend?
  • Are we aligned on KPIs?
  • Have you done X before?
    • Whatever your freight requires, make sure they have handled that situation in the past.

3. Establish a Benchmark

To determine your RFPs success, you have to know if it helped you hit your established goals. So, you need a baseline for comparison. There are a few ways you can accomplish this:

  • Gather historical data from your company
  • Reach out to industry trade associations that may share their knowledge
  • Work with an outside consultant

As you are compiling this data, be on the lookout for opportunities to optimize your transportation program. Maybe your RFP should consider modal conversion or the opportunities for lane aggregation.  

After a set time, once your new RFP is in place, look at the numbers in comparison to your baseline. Are they trending in the manner you had hoped? Preparing for measurement and analysis is a plan for success.

4. Outline RFP Administration

You will need to create a system of checks and balances for the RFP process to help secure the best outcome for your business. Define the communication pattern so you have a game plan to reach out to the participants after each round. We also advise an open line of communication with carriers and providers throughout the course of the RFP.

Pro tip! Do not provide target rates in your initial RFP. It could adversely impact the results and cause you to overlook providers that are a great fit with your operations.

After the RFP Process

You prepared and administered your RFP. Now what? Once your freight has been awarded, there is still more to do to get the trucks rolling. Onboarding calls are very important to make sure you are on the same page with each provider regarding service levels and volume commitments. You put a significant amount of your time and energy into the RFP, work to make sure it was worth the investment.

3PLs are a vital part of success in most supply chains. Your carrier strategy likely endorses a mix of 3PLs and asset-based carriers. We provide the value of strategy and solution that only a 3PL can. If our networks compliment one another, we will be a trusted resource to help your company succeed in hitting the goals of your RFP and beyond.

Submit your RFP to inquiry@agforcets.com.

 

Agforce Transport Services Joins U.S. EPA SmartWay® Transport Partnership

Leawood, KS — Agforce Transport Services today announced that it joined the SmartWay® Transport Partnership, an innovative collaboration between U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry that provides a framework to assess the environmental and energy efficiency of goods movement supply chains.

Agforce Transport Services will contribute to the Partnership’s savings of 215.4 million barrels of oil, $29.7 billion in fuel costs and 103 million tons of air pollutants. This is equivalent to eliminating annual energy use in over 14 million homes. By joining SmartWay Transport Partnership, Agforce Transport Services demonstrates its strong environmental leadership and corporate responsibility.

“As a broker, we are conscious of the carriers we choose to move freight in our network, currently partnering with more than 300 SmartWay carriers. It’s not an easy designation for carriers to achieve, and it speaks to their overall quality and dedication to sustainability. We see this partnership as invaluable to our green efforts and the overall environmental footprint of the freight industry,” said Andy Tuley, Vice President – Business Development.

Developed jointly in early 2003 by EPA and Charter Partners represented by industry stakeholders, environmental groups, American Trucking Associations, and Business for Social Responsibility, this innovative program was launched in 2004. Partners rely upon SmartWay tools and approaches to track and reduce emissions and fuel use from goods movement. The Partnership currently has over 3,000 Partners including shipper, logistics companies, truck, rail, barge, and multimodal carriers.

Agforce offers streamlined and flexible services helping companies dramatically improve their supply chain. We deliver the most effective solution for your business to help you ship your product where it needs to be — when it needs to be there. Together, we can simplify logistics. For more information about Agforce Transport Services, visit agforcets.com or call 844.713.6723.

For information about the SmartWay Transport Partnership visit www.epa.gov/smartway.

LTL Rate Increases and Market Saturation

High demand and favorable market conditions mean most LTL carriers find themselves firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to pricing and choice of freight as we enter the second half of 2018. Peak shipping season occurs during the third and fourth quarters along with contract negotiation between many shippers and carriers. With LTL companies already operating at full capacity and the undeniable impact of freight rates on profitability for most companies, shippers will be better prepared for what’s ahead when you understand the why behind the current state of the LTL market.

  • LTL Capacity
    While the economy is certainly a catalyst of LTL demand, there are other contributing factors. Tight LTL capacity also stems from the changing retail landscape (brick-and-mortar to ecommerce), spillover from full truckload demand, available equipment, and competition for available drivers.
  • Retail
    The “middle mile” of ecommerce shipments are often handled by LTL carriers. With a 16 percent growth in online retail purchases in 2017, and little sign of slow-down in 2018, ecommerce will continue to impact LTL capacity. Some carriers have adjusted operations by adding hubs and service centers to accommodate the industry, including their more rigid on-time delivery expectations.
  • Truckload Demand Spillover
    The overly saturated truckload market has some shippers looking to LTL carriers. That being said, heavy partial truckload shipments are not always ideal in LTL carrier operations. This has many carriers weeding out the freight that does not complement their network.
  • Available Equipment
    According to an article from Supply Chain 24/7, LTL carriers have not added much equipment to their fleets in the past few years. They speculate, however, that even a surge in available trucks would not have much impact due to the driver shortage.
  • Available Drivers
    Several growth sectors, including construction and manufacturing, share a workforce with LTL carriers. Competition within other industries that may offer more lucrative opportunity is a challenge for LTL carriers. The driver shortage of the truckload sector has not yet had a large impact on LTL.

Unexpected Consequences of High Demand

The benefit of high demand for LTL carriers is revenue growth — which is up 10% or more through volume or yield gains. It is not all roses though. There are challenges for carriers operating over capacity, and shippers are likely to feel it.

Carriers are maximizing profits, in part by weeding out freight that is less profitable — not a good fit for their network or operations. They are using pricing initiatives that make the shipments costly and ultimately leave shippers disinclined to tender freight that carriers find unattractive.

The freight that is moving through the overly saturated LTL operations may experience inconsistent service levels. Some terminals are already running weeks behind. The holiday surge will likely bring more missed pickups and transit delays for shippers. Without enough employees or equipment to handle such high shipment volume, some carriers have embargoed their guaranteed transit services. YRC Worldwide has suspended reimbursement of their Time-Critical service due to their struggle to keep up with demand. A note on their website indicates they may reinstate the practice, but are still facing difficulties, “We are currently working on a re-launch of our time critical services. While our service is improving, we continue to face industry challenges including peak shipping volumes, driver shortages and capacity constraints.”

Summary

With carriers’ eyes on profits and high demand in the market, freight shipping rates are likely to continue increasing during shipper-carrier contract negotiation the remainder of the year. Prices will go up, but do not expect service levels to do the same. Most LTL carriers are not operationally equipped to handle this surge in demand. Shippers will need to prepare for inconsistent transit days and allow time in their supply chain for things like missed pickups and late shipments.

Together, we can simplify logistics. Contact us today for a free consultation. Give us a call at 844.713.6723 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

 

National Truck Driver Appreciation Week and Beyond — Thank a Truck Driver

From the alarm clock you snooze in the morning to the TV you Netflix and chill with at night, it’s likely you have a truck driver to thank for making all the things you need, want and enjoy in your life accessible. We appreciate our driver partners every day, and we love the spotlight they enjoy during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week. It is a great time to reflect on all they do to keep our nation connected.

Let’s take a minute to explore the importance of truck drivers. They are undoubtedly the center of the freight industry, making it possible to move goods from here to there. Could they also be the hub of our general society? Think about the important institutions that would have trouble obtaining resources without truck drivers, like hospitals or prisons.

In an article by TruckerPlanet.net, they consider a world sans drivers. Their article states in the first 24 hours without truck drivers hospital, service station, and manufacturing operations would be impacted, as well as food supply. In the days that follow, supplies would become scarce and food shortage would be a concern — not to mention waste build up. Imagining this scenario makes it quite easy to give thanks to the men and women that help keep us cared for and fed.

It also shows just how important the trucking industry is to our national economy, contributing nearly $739 billion in revenue a year. About 70 percent of all freight tonnage is transported by truck, and 80 percent of U.S. communities are supplied by trucking deliveries.

There are currently 15.5 million trucks in operation traveling more than four million miles of roads. We imagined a world without drivers, but even a drop in the number of truckers on the road would have significant consequences. It would almost immediately translate to slower delivery times and higher priced goods.

Truck Driving is Hard

Let’s not forget what truck drivers give up to help us stay connected and productive, starting with the time they spend away from family and friends. Driving about 125,000 miles a year, they may have around 3 weeks between nights in their own bed.

In addition, a truck driver’s health can suffer. Over the road drivers may not have a lot of choice when it comes to healthy food selection, and sitting for long periods of time is not good for anyone. Seeing a doctor or health care professional in general can be a challenge for truck drivers with their schedules allowing for limited time at home.

And how can we not mention the dangers drivers face on the road itself? We need our drivers safe. That is easier said than done when you’re hauling 45,000 pounds or more during rush hour in Chicago, in the dark of night around sharp corners, or in frigid conditions while snow starts to accumulate. That is more than most of us would be willing to put on the line. It takes a lot of skill to navigate the roads in a truck.

Showing Appreciation

Long story short, drivers do more for us in our everyday life than what is typically recognized. From keeping gas in the stations to apples in the store, they keep us connected to the goods we cannot live without – often at a cost to their personal lives. With that in mind, let’s remember to thank our hardworking truck drivers during National Driver Appreciation Week, and every day that follows. They truly deserve respect and appreciation for the work they do to keep our country moving.

Together, we can simplify logistics. Contact us today for a free consultation. Give us a call at 844.713.6723 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.

 

What’s Driving the Trucker Shortage?

The U.S. trucking industry is short of drivers—about 50,000 short, according to an October 2017 estimate from the American Trucking Associations (ATA). The developing driver drought is a critical issue that has captured the attention of the trucking world: In an annual survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute, driver shortage ranked first among industry concerns.

A number of factors are contributing to the shortage, ranging from economic trends to demographic and regulatory shifts to the rigors of the job:

  • Freight volumes are on the rise, thanks to healthy commerce and a strengthening economy.
  • The average driver age for commercial truck drivers in the U.S. is 55, and 25 percent of current drivers near retirement age.
  • The trucking industry is having trouble attracting younger people to the profession. One issue is that prospective drivers must be 21 years old to hold an interstate commercial driver’s license. That typically means three years after high school, by which point many potential candidates have pursued jobs in other sectors.
  • A range of federal regulations—most recently the Elog mandate put in place in April—require truckers to track the time they work, which can impact productivity, and thus pay.
  • The long hours and requirements of the job can limit its appeal. Most drivers—especially newer ones—are on the road for extended periods of time, returning home only a few times a month. Adapting to life on the road (showering at rest stops, limited dietary choices, safety issues, and more) can make the job less appealing to some.
  • Drivers must pass a DOT (Department of Transportation) physical at least every two years. Some with specific health issues must do this annually. A lot of times the driver must pay for the physical out of their own pocket.
  • Sleep apnea and diabetes can disqualify a driver if certain criteria are not met.
  • Carriers cannot find drivers that can pass the required drug test at hire and then randomly throughout their employment.

The ATA estimates that because of industry growth and retirements, the trucking sector will need to recruit nearly 100,000 new drivers every year to keep up with the demand for drivers. The shortage is particularly acute in the long-haul, over-the-road truckload segment.

There are steps the trucking industry can take to help address the need for drivers:

  • Try to expand the demographic. For example, women currently make up only 6 percent of the truck drivers. Some observers see veterans seeking career transition after military service as another good potential source of prospective truckers.
  • Continue to boost driver wages. The national median for truck driver pay is $53,000, which represents a $7,000 increase from the previous year. For private fleet drivers, the pay increase is up $13,000.
  • Decrease time on the road. Trucking companies can address lifestyle issues of the profession by offering route options that are closer to drivers’ homes, reducing the long-haul lifestyle aspects of the job.

The truck driver shortage affects the entire economy and could have a significant impact on supplier costs and shipping delays. Agforce Transport Services monitors and tracks trucking industry developments like the driver shortage to provide informed consultation to customers.

Agforce specializes in customized transportation solutions for our customers’ specific business requirements. To learn more about how we can help address your company’s needs, contact us today for a free consultation. Give us a call at 844-713-6723 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.