Freight Insights for Week of July 19

The following insights are taken from a monthly discussion between Sunset’s nine US/MX branches.

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 July 13 call:



  • Driver capacity has not grown in relation to demand and is shrinking. Hiring and retaining drivers is a significant issue. Multiple driver pay increases already in 2021.
  • Chassis availability at intermodal terminals continue to be an issue, especially in Southern Cali and the Midwest.
  • Diesel Fuel prices expected to keep on an upward trend for the next several months before any additional flattening is anticipated. Oil prices hitting a 6 year high at $75 per barrel.


  • Consumers are sitting on a lot of cash. Retaining jobs through COVID and stimulus checks overall enabled consumers to save a lot of money. Consumers are demonstrating ability and willingness to spend. Shifted purchase of services to goods/ecommerce.
  • Retail sales remain strong, up 22.3% YOY. National Retail Federation revised up its annual outlook: predicted that retail sales will now grow between 10.5% and 13.5% to the range of $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion. That compares with $4.02 trillion in retail sales last year (NRF 6/14/21). Inventory levels remain at a record low.
  • As the economic recovery accelerates amid pent-up consumer demand, more than 97% of retailers surveyed by the National Retail Federation say they have been impacted by port and shipping delays. In many cases, retailers will absorb these costs and not pass them along to consumers. However, many smaller retailers have no choice but to pass along these costs (NRF 6/14/21).
  • Starting to see shift in demand to services: bar sales up 1.8% in May MOM. Travel increasing with vaccine distribution – TSA checkpoint travel numbers totaled 2.1M travelers over 4th of July weekend, the highest volume of passengers in a single day since just before COVID shut down global travel in early March 2020.
  • COVID-19: Total U.S. COVID-19 cases & deaths continue to decline. 47% of US vaccinated and 55% partially vaccinated (as of 7/7/2021).


  • LTL: continue to see cost and service challenges. FedEx Freight pruned 1,400 customers in June to protect service levels.
  • TL: to improve work life balance, carriers prioritize loads to get drivers home more often. Carriers are overbooked and continue to turn down high levels of tenders. Fewer carriers are accepting transactional loads in favor of committed awards.
  • Ocean/Air: Heavy Import volumes will continue to impact North American surface transportation, especially during Q3 and Q4.



  • Imbalance in supply chain resulting in equipment shortages (trucks and containers) and lack of vessel space. Rates continue and are expected to climb as we head into peak season. 
  • China slowly getting out of the Yantian Port outbreak, but will need time in digging out of a 500,000 TEU backlog.  Port of Yantian is responsible for 25% of all US Bound Chinese imports.
  • Warehousing throughout Asia/Pacific ports is limited, which is now impacting overall production due to lack of storage.


  • Asia Pacific: Threat of pandemic and slow vaccine rollout continues to constrain consumer demand.
  • Latin America: Overall progress on mass vaccinations is slow and a resurgence in COVID-19 deaths and variant is re-imposing lockdown measures. Industrial sectors suffering from global shortages of semiconductors. Project GDP to return to pre-pandemic levels end of 2022.
  • Europe: Vaccination efforts accelerated, and near-term sentiment look positive.
  • Ecommerce sales remain strong, and shippers continue to grapple with inventory restocking.


  • Intl Air Freight- High consumer demand has pushed global air cargo volumes up to pre-Covid demands and three times higher than a typical year.  Air Cargo peak season could start in Sept (normally Oct/Nov) and retail capacity will keep rates elevated for some time.
  • Intl Ocean- All US importers are placing peak season orders early to avoid being caught without inventories.  This translates to early peak season charges being applied to elevated rates while causing continued service delays.


  • While overall capacity will remain the biggest challenge for shippers, sustainability in the current environment will become the focus for shippers/customers.  General inventory levels will not be meaningfully refilled and balanced until 2022.
  • Looking ahead, it is not likely that we will see freight rates declining with any significance. While produce season has largely wound down in the Southeast and will begin tailing off in other areas by mid-July, freight volumes are so high that transportation rates will remain at elevated levels well into 2022.
  • Shippers/Importers will need to prioritize creating flexible supply chains in response to an ever changing, volatile market.
  • Demand will continue to outpace the market’s ability to increase capacity.
  • Sunset is working with all of our customers on creating and implementing sustainable solutions for their supply chains.

Industry data is pulled and summarized weekly from key proprietors and industry experts using multiple publications and sources. Some examples of the publications used are Freightwaves, Transport Topics, American Shipper, American Cranes & Transport, FMCSA, DOT, SC&RA. The information is discussed with Sunset Managing Directors and validated prior to publication of summary data in this posting.

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