Freight Insights for January 2023
The following insights are provided by Sunset’s Strategic Account Management team.
Trends and discussions range from seasonal manufacturing and agriculture trends that affect available capacity to general insight into outside factors affecting freight volumes.
Below is a summary of the January insights:
- Avocados from Mexico are looking to make touchdown on February 12. The Super Bowl is the biggest occasion of the year for avocados from Mexico, with peak-shipping season coinciding with the NFL end-of-season event in Phoenix, AZ.
- A loss of freight from US home construction and manufacturing is depressing spot market volumes and rates for flatbed trucks, creating surplus capacity which isn’t currently being matched with demand.
- Estes Express is opening a new terminal near its Richmond, Virginia headquarters and building a third terminal in Southern California on a 40-acre site east of the Inland Empire. This follows the opening of a larger LTL terminal near the Port of Savannah in 2022.
- LTL carrier, Roadrunner, is launching an expedited service connecting Southern California and Chicago using team drivers. This is part of a network reorganization which should shorten freight transit times on 130 major lanes by one to four days.
- The current load-to-truck ratio on 1/22 is 2.08. Now that the holidays are over and truck availability has opened, capacity has softened to meet current demand.
- Consumers are spending approximately 8% more on retail than last year, however, this is still lower than the rate of inflation at 9%. Real retail sales adjusted for inflation are down 1% YoY.
- The US Census Bureau reports that U.S. retail and food services sales for December 2022, adjusted for seasonal variation, were $677.1B, down 1.1% from the previous month, but 6% above December 2021.
- Last week, the National Association of Realtors reported single-family home sales dropped 1.1% in December from the previous month, and 33.5% YoY. Additionally, the US Census Bureau reported that US housing starts in December were down 1.4% from November, and were 21.8% lower YoY. Last year was the worst for home sales since 2014.
- Steel shipments from US mills were down 3.8% in December from the previous month, and 12.1% YoY, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. The decline in steel shipments reflects not just lower construction, but lagging industrial production with fewer shipments of raw material and finished products.
- The average cost of Diesel is $4.604 as of 1/23, up $.080 from the week prior, but still $.824 higher than last year.
- The hunt is on for a new CEO at C.H. Robinson. Robert C. Biesterfeld Jr.’s departure was an “involuntary termination without cause,” according to a company filing Tuesday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The change in leadership will likely accelerate strategic changes in planning and capital spending at C.H. Robinson that have been underway since last March at the urging of their investors.
- FedEx Small Pack will further cut Sunday delivery service in mid-March. Territories which will have their service cut will be finalized in February.
- The NMFTA announced in October their intent to simplify the LTL NMFC classification process by shifting towards more density-based classifications where appropriate. They deemed this a “Classification Reimagination Project”. After rolling nearly 500 NMFC codes into existing density-based groups in November, they have followed up with a new docket covering new density-based codes for 30 subjects. The committee meets on February 6 to discuss the docket, which means the approved items will be announced publicly in March.
- Forward Air has acquired Land Air. The acquisition is the first major acquisition in the expedited LTL sector since Forward acquired Towne Air Freight in 2015.
- A bipartisan bill, which would improve the working conditions of truck drivers, was introduced in the US House of Representatives last week. Among other things, the bill would authorize $755M in grants over four years to expand truck parking along US highways. A lack of truck parking was the third-leading concern of motor carriers surveyed last year by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). The grants would be available to public-private partnerships and state and local government projects.
Short Term Expectations
Sunset expects demand to reduce or stay flat in the coming weeks and capacity to remain generally available. Challenges will arise on certain regional levels due to winter weather.
- The 2M Alliance of Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Co. are adding three vessels to its trans-Atlantic services in Q1, while slowing sailing speeds as the carriers try to match excess capacity with weakening demand. This is prior to some of their vessels being retired this year due to new carbon emissions guidelines put into place by IMO 2023.
- Many retailers and NVOs plan to continue routing cargo through East and Gulf coast ports due to uncertainties over the direction of ILWU contract negotiations, now in their 8th month.
- Flexport said they are laying off 20% of their global workforce last week, citing weakening economic conditions and decreased demand which caused international freight volumes to dip over the second half of 2022. Prior to the layoffs, Flexport had 3,200 employees – the layoff impacted approximately 640 workers. In 2021, their annual revenue exceeded $3.3B USD.
- COSCO Shipping and its OOCL subsidiary have significantly boosted their capacity in trades out of India with the launch of a new direct connection to the US East Coast. The joint string has been designed with 10 vessels of 4,250 TEU each.
- Soaring trade volumes in Vietnam, partly due to manufacturers shifting out of China because of Beijing’s recurring COVID-19 restrictions, have led to a surge in mainline vessel capacity at Vietnam ports. About 3.4M TEU of deep-sea capacity was available at Vietnamese ports in Q4 2022, a 21% increase from the year prior.
- US retailers are forecasting a decline in imports at least into the spring, saying the normal winter lull in the eastbound trans-Pacific will be pronounced in the coming months. Imports dropped below 2 million for the first time in nearly 2 years.
- Some of the lower demand reported is a result of overstocked inventory. Front-loading of imports that typically arrive during the first half of 2022 created bloated inventories that are still being drawn down, especially for retailers.
- With export activity slowing in 2023, the Port of New York and New Jersey said the respite will allow stakeholders to resume work on projects aimed at keeping and increasing the share of containerized freight, which migrated from West Coast ports in 2022. These changes include longer gate hours, better truck and rail networks at the port, and ongoing discussions with port workers to head off any labor disputes prior to fruition.
- Union Pacific Railroad lifted the cap on demurrage penalties in its final two terminals — UP Global IV in Joliet and UP Kansas City — on January 1, although trucking executives in both cities tell the Journal of Commerce that ocean containers remain in stacks in both cities.
- China’s new COVID surge could also be holding back steel cargoes and hampering port operations. Some large industrial and project-related cargoes have already been pushed back to the third and fourth quarters of 2023, JOC reports.
- The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has called on the FMC to make it easier for US agriculture exporters to lodge complaints about botched export bookings. The USDA also wants specific situations to be included in the rule that demonstrates when an ocean carrier is unreasonably refusing to carry an export load. The proposed rule is one of the many changes coming out of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA-22).
- Normalization in supply chains will more closely resemble a gradual resumption of more typical behavioral and operational patterns, rather than a leap backward to the 2010s.
- Freightos was publicly listed with NASDAQ last week, completing a process announced June 2022 when the company was acquired with the aim of taking it public. The company reports that the access to capital will be used to help them grow by adding employees and making additional acquisitions.
Short Term Expectations
Sunset expects ocean capacity to remain available and import demand to continue to slow until late Q2/early Q3.
Industry data is pulled and summarized weekly from key proprietors and industry experts using multiple publications and sources. Sources include, but not limited to: FreightWaves, Cass Transportation Index, DAT, Journal of Commerce (JOC), PYMNTS, NRF, Cleveland Research. The information is discussed with Sunset Managing Directors and validated prior to publication of summary data in this posting.