North American Freight Market Insights

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Transportation Market Overview

TOP STORY: 5 influencers shaping today’s supply chains in North America

  1. Illness-related absenteeism caused by COVID-19 Omicron variant is temporarily impacting freight flows at ports and across all surface modes
  2. 2021 was the year of labor for trucking—2022 is likely to be the year of trucking manufacturing
  3. Outcome of COVID-19 mandates could potentially impact freight flows
  4. Lunar (Chinese) New Year approaches, which is contributing to the backlog of import volumes
  5. Truck and LTL pricing increases may be near the top of historical norms with normal seasonal/cyclical patterns

Illness-related absenteeism

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is temporarily impacting many aspects of life—especially supply chains—due to rising illness-related absences.

On average, transportation and logistics operations have reported a single digit percentage of employees are off work across the modal portfolio. This includes dock workers at less than truckload (LTL) terminals and ports of entry. With the current market tension across the portfolio of transportation and logistics services, this level of absenteeism is being felt in terms of active capacity and delays.

Trucking labor and manufacturing outlook

There are material and prolonged challenges with trucking labor—baby boomer retirement bubble and low participation of women in trucking jobs to name a few—but despite these situations, overall trucking labor is improving.

During 2020’s economic shutdown, the United States lost almost 100,000 trucking jobs. At the end of 2021, trucking employment had made notable improvement since that time. Carriers continue to attract and retain drivers with higher wages, lifestyle improvements, and the most up to date equipment.

The return of trucking and LTL labor
Short-haul trucking is fully restaffed and has surpassed pre-pandemic levels. This is likely in response to the local transportation needs caused by the boom in ecommerce shopping as well as by the driver community’s increasing desire to be home every night.

Long-haul trucking employment continues its climb to pre-pandemic levels. The chart below shows a shortage of roughly 7,300 long-haul trucking jobs compared to 2019 numbers. In May 2021, the shortage was at 23,500 long-haul trucking jobs.

General freight employment

Source: Jason Miller, PhD, Michigan State University and Bureau of Labor Statistics through November 2021.

As of November 2021, LTL employment numbers were only short 900 drivers compared to November 2019, proving its labor availability continues to improve as well.

Manufacturing continues to lag
Truck, trailer, and chassis manufacturing may be the capacity story of 2022 as manufacturing still lags on existing orders and backlogs grow.

The January 12 report from ACT Research estimates 3.1% growth in the Class 8 fleet of under 11-year-old trucks in the United States. This forecast is dependent on ACT Research's expectation that semiconductor chips will be more available by mid-2022, which are needed to ramp up truck production.

US Class 8 active TL and LTL tractor population

How much will the total Class 8 fleet grow in 2022?
The forecast from ACT Research suggests the fleet will get younger. However, the balance of trucks 11 years and older is less clear. It is presumed that it may not grow as quickly as the younger side of the fleet.

It’s difficult to be accurate on aging out the older fleet, but ACT estimates that in 2020 and 2021 the over 11 fleet did contract some. For 2022, blending the older fleet with the younger fleet, ACT Research suggests a possible net USA class-8 tractor fleet growth of just under 3%.

With this growth forecast, the truckload volume growth range of 3% to 5% (found across the analyst community) could result in continued tension in 2022. Perhaps with greater tension in the first half of the year as truck production increases in the second half.

Trailer manufacturing forecasts are vague due to component supply chain issues. Orders are robust, but forecasts are carefully released from manufacturers as a result. Inbound supply chains are improving and the market expects better 2022 forecasting forthcoming.

In a note published by Stoughton, they reported chassis manufacturing should reach full production rate by September 2022. While exciting, that news suggests 2022 will experience a recovering chassis pool size, but still smaller than 2018.

Outcome of COVID-19 mandates

The COVID-19 mandates from OSHA and President Biden have been a concern for many in the trucking industry. The Supreme Court heard the ATA's case to exempt trucking on Friday January 7, 2022. Please see our Government and Regulations section below, and our Canadian and Mexico sections for updates on the USA court rulings and cross border mandates.

Lunar New Year approaches

Expect strong import volumes leading up to the Lunar New Year holiday (also known as Chinese New Year). There will be continued pressure on the ports and inland transportation. Then during the holiday, import volumes typically slow somewhat. However, capacity will continue to remain tight, especially as standard, routine cargo is planned, and prioritized, in advance of upcoming holidays.

With roughly two weeks of lower shipping from China (roughly the first two weeks of February), U.S. West Coast ports will have some opportunity to focus on the port backlog, but will face continued pressure on surface transportation into March. For more details on the impact of this global holiday, check out our Global Freight Market Insights.

Truck and LTL pricing increases

With a market where shipment volume and tonnage in 2022 is forecasted to meet or even exceed active capacity, truckload spot market pricing is forecasted to increase another 6% over 2021. See the C.H. Robinson spot market van forecast graph below.

Analysts forecast contract trucking will range from 5.9% to 10% as contract pricing lags the spot market increases of 2021.

LTL rate increases are forecasted between low single digits to 9%. Not all lanes or freight types will adjust at the same levels. Your business may experience prices that are above, at, or below forecasts depending on the attributes of your freight portfolio, strategy, and age of pricing.

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Full Truckload Shipping

TOP STORY: Upcycle continues: 2022 volume forecasts outpace supply growth

Most often, after reaching a truckload market peak, pricing relaxes amidst decreased pressure as new investment in capacity catches up to demand or puts the market into an oversupply state. Today’s market is recovering in the labor sector thanks to the impressive efforts from the trucking community to offer increased compensation and get drivers home more often.

The challenges to seating trucks are far from gone, but as trucking labor recovers from COVID-19 losses, the next issue becomes tractor growth.

As analysts look at the semiconductor backlog, which directly impacts the manufacturing of new Class 8 tractors, forecasts suggest that increases in freight volume will outpace growth in active capacity.

It does not look like 2022 will bring a year of oversupply, but January 2022 forecasts are already higher than December 2021. The following table shows truckload spot market forecasts by analysts and how they have moved in the past year.

Analyst June 2021 December 2021 January 2022

ACT

-9%

-3%

2%

C.H. Robinson

N/A

4%

6%

FTR

-10.7%

-2.5%

-2.5%

 

The increase from 4% to 6% in the C.H. Robinson model comes mostly in the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter. The factors that put the greatest pressure on the first half of the year are:

  1. The current Omicron wave
  2. Truck drivers slow return from the year-end holidays break
  3. Very active winter storms
  4. Robust freight volumes.

The balance of the year is currently holding the forecast as we have published the past couple months and is influenced by declining quarterly GDP growth rate forecasts and some slow shift of spending on products to services.

If actual freight volumes come in lower than the expected 3–5% increase, or if more tractors and drivers add to the active capacity pool, then pricing could be lower than expected. Conversely, greater demand growth and supply stagnation would likely bring about greater increases.

The chart below represents the C.H. Robinson van spot market forecast. It displays relatively normal seasonal movement of pricing over the year.

NAST CHR labor gap

Imports and inland transportation

Backlog at North American ocean ports continues

Continued strong import volumes and staffing absenteeism due to COVID-19 Omicron related illnesses are contributing to backlogged ports. The Wall Street Journal reports 10% of port labor at Los Angeles/Long Beach is impacted.

Factory and terminal closures in China
Volumes into the ports and the resulting demand on cross docks, truck, and intermodal services will likely continue into and through February. With less than a month to go until the start of Lunar New Year (first couple weeks of February) and the Beijing Winter Olympics (February 4–20, 2022), factories and terminal closures are expected, which could potentially further impact ocean freight services already beset by restricted capacity, cancelled sailings, and equipment shortages at China origins.

Anticipate the month of February (loadings in China) to generally slow until the last week of February when operations will gradually resume back to normal. Specific to the Beijing Winter Olympics, expect factory closures in Beijing’s vicinity, mostly in Hebei province, especially factories in heavy industry to curb pollution.

Increased customs inspections in Beijing
There will also be increased customs inspections for imported goods into Beijing (Tianjin Port) during this time. Plan for possible delays, especially for dangerous goods during the leadup and entirety of the Olympics.

Lower than normal volume is an opportunity for U.S. ports
The net result of closures in China means the opportunity for North American ports to work through the backlog of vessels and grounded containers in February and early March.

Anticipate continued strong demand for surface transportation and logistics services during this time.

U.S. airports face operations challenges

In recent weeks, airports have also faced labor challenges (for both terminal employees and drivers) because of COVID-19 cases. This adds to airport congestion.

While lower than normal demand does mitigate these challenges to some degree, plan on longer lead times (the time it takes for the airline to make cargo available for surface transportation).

Currently the airports with the longest dwell time include:

  • LAX is at 4–6 days of dwell with some terminals up to 14 days
  • ORD, DFW, ATL, and JFK are experiencing roughly 2–4 days of dwell time 

 

Spot market, committed market, and capacity insights

Spot market under continued pressure

All three primary truckload segments continue to display unprecedented load to truck ratio (LTR) tension. The charts below show six years of DAT's LTRs. The red line represents the first three weeks of 2022.

A 3:1 LTR for dry van can be considered a reasonably balanced market, while balanced for refrigerated is closer to 6:1 and flatbed considers 20:1 balanced.

With LTR's above the previous five years most weeks and above the five-year average nearly every week, 2021 proved to be an exceptional year.

Currently, expect higher levels of tension in the first half of 2022. The second half of 2022 is less clear but current expectations show LTRs improving, but still higher than the 3:1 balanced market level.

Dry van LTR

The graph below displays the increased tension in the last weeks of 2021 as drivers took vacation and COVID-19 Omicron infection rates started to rise.

The first weeks of 2022 experienced record levels of tension on a national level. The map later in this report provides more detail to regional areas of tension and balance that create the national average.

NAST CHR labor gap

 

Refrigerated van LTR

Like dry van, refrigerated LTR shows a similar pattern at the end of 2021 and opening of 2022. Like dry van, refrigerated shipments have areas facing regional pressures and others closer to balance.

NAST CHR labor gap

 

Flatbed LTR

As shown below, flatbed is experiencing a similar spike in LTR. See the flatbed section of this report for more insights on the forthcoming flatbed seasons.

NAST CHR labor gap

 

Spikes seen in the early weeks of 2022 are likely temporary due to contracted active capacity that will come back to the market with the conclusion of prolonged vacations and improvement in the COVID-19 Omicron situation.

Be proactive on shipping plans and capacity strategies. Regional inclement weather could be problematic as it was with winter weather across the country in 2021.

Dry van DAT LTR by region

The map below clearly shows high pressure in port areas, especially Southern California, cross-border Mexico, and Southeast ports.

Yellow, orange, and red regions are higher tension as they display LTR's over 3:1 (Note that yellow is up to 6.9:1)

NAST CHR labor gap

Contract truckload environment

Most (75%–85%) of the U.S. for-hire truck market is managed through commitments most often managed via hierarchical route guides. What follows are some perspectives and notes on today’s contract truckload environment.

Route guide performance

Companies commonly use waterfall (or hierarchical) route guides to manage awarded freight on lanes with some level of demand pattern predictability. The following insights are derived from C.H. Robinson’s large portfolio of customers across diverse industries throughout the United States.

Two key metrics of route guide performance are first tender acceptance (FTA) and route guide depth (RGD). RGD refers to how far into a route guide a shipper must tender shipments before carriers accept loads, or the average number of tenders per load. FTA is a percentage of how often the awarded primary transportation provider accepts their shipment tenders.

Routing guide depth

The chart above from TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson, reflects weekly RGD regionally across the United States through the week of January 2–15, 2022.

During the week of January 9-15, 2022, the overall RGD across all regions of 1.94 underperformed as compared to a month ago at 1.79. In recent weeks, the Southern region has made the most improvement with the Northeast struggling the most due to the winter storms.

December's FTA dropped to a COVID-19 period low at 78%
This is compared to 81% in November 2021 and 2020. The range of performance for FTA has been 80–82% since the reopening of the economy in 2020.

For some additional context:

  • Week of March 3, 2019, FTA was 89% and RGD was 1.21
  • Week of Feb 23, 2020, FTA was 90% and RGD was 1.17

Essentially, when the first tender is accepted at the same rate and RGD increases, fewer loads are covered with the first backup and likely more loads are going deeper in the route guide and to the spot market.

For December, all three distance bands increased their RGD as more tenders drifted to non-primary carriers. Increases in RGD were similar for all distance bands. For perspective:

  • Short haul (less than 400 miles) increased roughly a tenth of a point from ~1.4 to ~1.5, which is still elevated from 2019 and the first half of 2020 levels, which were in the 1.1 to 1.2 range.
  • Middle distance (400–600 miles) increased roughly a tenth as well, to about 1.9, which is much elevated from 2019 and the first half of 2020 levels, which were in the 1.3 to 1.4 range.
  • Long distance (over 600 miles) also increased about a tenth to ~1.9. Like the other distances, it is well above 2019 and the first half of 2020 levels, which were in the 1.1 to 1.3 range.

Voice of the carrier from C.H. Robinson

C.H. Robinson has two customer communities, shipper customers and carrier customers. What follows are insights from conversations with carriers of all sizes to offer perspective into their top concerns in the beginning of 2022. Below is a summary of the reoccurring themes.

  • Regional snow and cold continue to strain carriers in an already tense market
  • Drivers are experiencing COVID-19 Omicron illness, effectively reducing active capacity
    • 1–5% of drivers are out due to COVID-19 Omicron
    • Warehouse, office, and mechanic staff experience as much or greater absences from COVID-19 Omicron
    • Drivers are asking for drop trailer loads to minimize contact risk at pickup and delivery
    • Much of January could see higher absenteeism due to COVID-19 Omicron illnesses
  • Carriers continue to harvest parts for tractors and trailers from parked equipment due to challenges in getting parts and new equipment
  • There is continued uncertainty about the receiving schedules of new tractors and trailers

Successful shipping in early 2022 will depend on access to smaller carriers as the labor migration completed a second year of a meaningful shift in 2021. This migration of talent contracted the active capacity in the largest carriers, while meaningfully expanding owner-operators and the smallest carrier segments.

Connect with your C.H. Robinson team to discuss strategies to improve your access to capacity and options for adding greater stability to freight expenses.

Temperature controlled shipping

Expect temperature controlled primary markets—California, the Midwest, Great Lakes, Northeast, Southeast, etc.—to surge in demand at the start of 2022. There will be increased pressure to pull dry and refrigerated capacity to support several commodities while working through the backlog created from the holiday season and New Year.

Labor absences impact temperature controlled

A high percentage of refrigerated carriers operate with fleets of 10 or fewer trucks. Small fleets have less elasticity due to smaller teams and lower trailer to tractor ratios making the impact to the active capacity more dramatic. Similar staffing absences at shippers and receivers is also creating increased delays, which small, refrigerated carriers struggle to manage due to limited or no elasticity in their fleets.

Imbalance of refrigerated trucks

The coming year will continue to bring a unique imbalance for refrigerated trucks. With the exceptional demand and pricing for dry van freight, many in the refrigerated community choose to run refrigerated trucks as dry vans. This saves on fuel and the use of the refrigeration unit while offering similar money. These moves effectively decrease the available temperature controlled capacity.

Remain flexible and communicate your temp controlled needs

With limits on capacity, labor, and equipment caused by COVID-19, you must remain flexible to be successful when moving refrigerated goods.

The backlog and case count will only last so long. It’s critical to understand where to move appointments, how to plan for expected delivery dates, and find new ways to eliminate waste for the start of 2022 to be a success.

Connect with a temperature controlled expert to learn more about how seasonal and supply imbalances affect your business and how our unique transportation procurement and capacity solutions can help your shipping strategy in the short and long run.

Flatbed

Planning and flexibility are key to a successful flatbed capacity and price strategy.

Impact of winter weather on flatbed

Coast-to-coast winter weather, heavy snow, and ice have lessened the efficiency of flatbed services more so than van and refrigerated due to jobsites not being cleared as fast as roads

Recap flatbed 2021 and Q1 2022 forecasts

Through 2021, the backlog of project loads has improved. And 2022 capital project lists are starting to increase with manufacturing investments seemingly most prominent. Bidding activity for projects has increased as shippers are seeking committed capacity over the spot market.

In Q1 2022, several industries show early growth, including raw materials and components for automotive, oil, and gas. Renewable energy has shown consistent volumes through the pandemic and is expected to continue.

How to succeed with flatbed in 2022

  1. In a market where bidding activity for projects is establishing commitments, plan for: longer lead times with broader appointment windows. This is a continued need for carriers and is offered by many/most shippers to help assure capacity against project schedules.
  2. Be creative in using the portfolio of open deck trailer types. Consider all your options, including traditional flat, step deck, Conestoga, hot shot, etc. to open more capacity options.

Cross-border shipping: Canada

The pandemic along with historic weather events led to the most active and volatile Canadian markets seen in years. Many supply chains were impacted.

Here is what to keep an eye on at the start of 2022:

Cross-border vaccine mandate

New Canadian and U.S. cross-border mandates are set to begin this month (January 15, 2022, for Canada and January 22nd for USA) and shippers/receivers are preparing for impacts to supply. While some associations predict this could result in 10–20% reduction of cross-border drivers, Reuters Canada reports that the government estimates only 5% of drivers will be impacted. Of interest to our clients is that roughly 80% of the cross-border drivers are Canadian, who tend to have much higher vaccination rates than USA drivers, thus lessening how impactful this situation could have been.

Accessorial charges for border delays
Expect the vaccine mandate to create increased border-crossing times while vaccination statuses are validated. Carriers are starting to cite a required accessorial charge to cover the additional unproductive time. Work with your provider to plan for this additional charge in advance.

Award versus spot market cross-border capacity
If the market sees some contraction of active capacity due to the vaccine mandates for Canada/U.S. cross-border trucking, C.H. Robinson will continue to prioritize “awarded” business over spot market loads to help customers with capacity confidence.

Omicron impacts cross-border supply and demand

Some Canadian provinces have re-implemented emergency shutdowns to reduce the impact and help slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Load cancelations are increasing as some manufacturers and trucking companies report escalating labor shortages, a situation worsened by the spread of the new variant. (Source: Insidelogistics.ca). Flexibility and being proactive will help when navigating the market.

Disrupted supply of port trucking capacity

Effective February 1, 2022, the Port of Vancouver will ban trucks older than 10 years. Applying for a temporary exemption comes with large fees for truckers.

Canada’s largest private sector union, Unifor, is asking to convene consultations about the fairest way to transition the trucks without causing financial hardship for truck drivers and minimizing disruption in port trucking capacity. Source: Truck News

Update on flooding in British Columbia

Border officials will maintain temporary in-transit processes until March 31, 2022, adding to the regulatory relief offered in the wake of floods in British Columbia. “Although transit times into and out of the province remain much longer than normal, the use of the temporary process has been extremely helpful in minimizing delay times and keeping store shelves stocked to assist businesses and families during their time of need,” the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) said in a related bulletin Source: Truck News

Flatbed contractual pricing at the border

Most flatbed carriers are offering 30-day pricing and annual commitments are less available due to volatility in the market.

Cross-border shipping: Mexico

Regulatory updates

CFDI obligation in grace period
The obligation to issue the CFDI with Carta Porte supplement went into effect on January 1, 2022. However, there will be a grace period until March 31, 2022. During this time, shippers will not receive any fines or sanctions if information is transmitted incorrectly.

The last-minute changes in SAT have become problematic for shippers that were not working on this transition early, leading to additional time to correct information and delays in transit. Please connect with your C.H. Robinson representative for support and insights to help meet the requirements.

Implementing PITA
Mexico’s ports continue to implement PITA, the customs technology integration project designed to clear trucks in a paperless environment. All crossings are now integrated with PITA, including the World Trade Bridge, but it will be the last port to make PITA mandatory.

  • The obligation to declare the Carta Porte on the Mexican customs entry (Pedimento) will go into effect on March 31. Therefore, it is recommended that shippers start testing now to establish the process with their Mexican customs broker.
  • The CFDI with Carta Porte supplement will likely have to be digitized so creating and transmitting in PDF is currently recommended.

The trade community anticipates a Q1 2022 roll out there, which will require all border-transfer carriers to utilize the single badge system that incorporates all customs, carriers, and trade partner information within an RFID-chip embedded in their badges.

Imbalance for cross-border trade is growing

Northbound demand for both cross dock and direct truckload services continues to exceed southbound demand by bouncing between 2:1 and 3:1 for both intra-Mexico and Laredo into the United States. At this sustained level of imbalance, carriers are repositioning empty equipment to meet demand, and this is the reason for higher costs.

Spot market for northbound shipments exiting Laredo averages during the last month 30:1 from the 23:1 average experienced in Q4 2021. The increased pressure continues from November and December holiday backlogs, and increased year-end volumes.

This level of spot market imbalance requires flexibility in schedules, lead and transit times, and pricing on northbound freight. Source: DAT

Improving the driver experience

Carriers within Mexico continue prioritizing shipping locations with quick turn times while declining loads and/or increasing costs in demurrage charges for companies that have a history of long dwell times. Especially now, with the implementation of complemento carta porte, expenses or demurrage charges have grown since Jan 1, 2022, pushing shippers to obtain information of shipments before truck arrival, which in the past was not a common practice.

Complemento carta porte will help ensure documentation is ready prior to arrival to the border, streamlining the border-crossing experience. Carriers continue to push to unload Mexican trailers faster at U.S. crossdocks, enabling the return of equipment to Mexico faster while opening capacity for northbound shipments.

Winter crop demand for refrigerated capacity

Arizona and California borders with Mexico continue to experience increased freight volumes and higher costs as winter produce season hits full swing. This regional crop season continues into the end of February.

B1 Visa migration

Mexican drivers with B1 Visas continue migrating from cross-border transfer services to direct service, delivering deeper into the United States.

Mexico’s National Chamber of Trucking (Canacar) puts the shortfall at 50,000 drivers, while the International Road Transport Union (IRU) said the shortage in Mexico grew 175% in 2021 year over year (Y/Y)—the equivalent of 87,500 drivers.

Work with your C.H. Robinson representative to determine if a crossdock or through service is best suited for your needs.

Intra-Mexico and cross-border vaccine mandate

Voice of carrier research with intra-Mexico and cross-border carriers suggests mandatory vaccination concerns are not an issue. Carriers report that most drivers took advantage of the free vaccination program.

Leverage our 30+ years’ experience in Mexico to help secure the best service available in today’s market and proactively navigate changes as the mandate is enforced.

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Intermodal Shipping

TOP STORY: Volume growth remains steady

Intermodal volumes remained steady through the close of 2021 against the backdrop of a constrained second half of the year. Port congestion, chassis availability, and labor limitations caused varied challenges impacting intermodal velocity—the metric used by the industry to measure performance.

As the new year begins, demand remains strong against high load-to-truck ratios and should remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, intermodal peak season surcharges (PSS) have been lifted, which should bode well for more fluid movement out of constrained markets like southern California.

Still, pressures remain to find balance through improved container utilization, chassis availability, and an increase in active truck utilization in the dray space. These factors will remain critical to performance in the first half of 2022, much like the second half of 2021.

Intermodal focus areas for January 2022

  • Dray capacity has pockets of limitations that can be addressed with flexibility and planning
  • Domestic 53ʹ chassis supply
    • Anticipated delivery of 30k chassis in 2022
    • Chassis manufacturing shift from Asia to United States
    • Localized challenges are caused by demand shifts and surges
  • Winter weather events may lead to additional network disruptions and service variability
  • Vaccination mandates may stress cross-border capacity; intermodal options exist as a release valve

Schneider National and Union Pacific Railroad announced a deal where UP will be the primary intermodal rail transportation provider in the western U.S. for Schneider effective January 2023. The Announcement was made January 19th with more information to come.

Intermodal is an opportunity for more capacity

Overall, intermodal is open and continues to participate in the broad freight flows and migration of loads in today's market. Use it as an opportunity to increase capacity but be sure to accept goods when available and turn trailers/containers as fast as possible to return capacity to the network.

C.H. Robinson has container capacity availability for your immediate and long-term intermodal needs. Engage your C.H. Robinson account manager for more insights and strategies to help integrate intermodal into your supply chain, minimize peak season and dwell surcharges, and manage this current environment.

Less Than Truckload (LTL) Shipping

TOP STORY: Strong LTL volumes forecasted for end of year 2022

 

The LTL carrier community indicates disciplined pricing, operations, and investment in infrastructure are all top areas of focus.

Other insights include:

  • Tonnage forecast for 2022 at 4% growth
  • LTL rate per CWT (net fuel) increased to a record level of 12% Y/Y in Q3 2021
  • COVID-19 Omicron causing minor elevated absenteeism in drivers; higher impact in the office and with mechanics—expect temporary delays as a result
  • A “stay” from the courts on the Executive Order mandating vaccination for firms with government contracts removes the current threat to LTL carriers, whom many have government contracts.
  • Rationalizing LTL networks post-consolidation will continue (as it has been since 2007) with some carriers
  • Expansion of docks and doors at terminals in 2021 could lead to additional capacity options in 2022
  • Carriers continue focusing on freight that contributes to efficient operations and higher yield
  • Active capacity (trucks and trailers) is reduced as carriers harvest parts from parked assets to keep the fleet running since parts and new equipment are difficult to find

While LTL capacity continues to be stressed, C.H. Robinson has access to the most capacity. Trust our experts to help find value in each segment of your portfolio and align freight to carrier preferences. Create the solutions you need for changing market conditions using our relationships with over 150 contract LTL carriers, a vast consolidation network, and a diversified suite of services.

Small Parcel

Much like all other modes in 2021, parcel continues to see massive disruption, caused by COVID-19 and various global supply chain challenges. This continued disruption means a lot of movement in parcel service providers. Both private equity and venture capital firms are making large investments and a few acquisitions have occurred.

Investment in parcel

  • Acquisitions total $3.373B
    • Lasership and OnTrac merge: $1.8B
    • Maersk acquired Visible: $838m
    • Whiplash acquired by Ryder: $480m
    • Project 44 acquires Convey: $255m
    • UPS acquires Roadie
  • $8.36B raised by 22 parcel and delivery start-ups

This means $11.76B was invested in parcel services in 2021. This is likely only the beginning—there’s probably more coming in 2022.

Investment in ecommerce

The other area that saw a lot of movement was ecommerce, with large investments and additional services being created around auditing, visibility, pricing, and reporting tools. Some examples of this are:

  • Shippo: $95m raised
  • Sendle: $35m raised
  • Stord: $155m raised
  • ShipHero: $50m raised

Emphasis on a diversified carrier base

Many of these investments were centered around regional carriers, with the largest being the merger of Lasership and Ontrac in Q4 2021. All this highlights the importance of diversifying the carrier base where possible.

If you pick up any trade publication, odds are you will come across an article that talks about the importance of regional carriers. Many suggest the only way overcome capacity challenges of the duopoly is to use a regional carrier strategy. The good news is there are many options to get everything you want out of your parcel supply chain.

While regionalization is a promising approach, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. It requires strategic planning, or else you run the risk of missing volume thresholds and sliding down pricing tiers with FedEx and UPS. You could also potentially damage existing relationships you have built with current parcel carriers.

Plan carefully about what you need and want from your parcel providers. Many startups focus on automation that removes the customer service element in favor of a fully self-service solution. A better approach is to work with a provider that offers the service you need backed by the experience and knowledge to guide your decisions with data. C.H. Robinson strives to be both a parcel vendor and consultant—this means the best combination of service and support for your specific business.

Government and Regulations

TOP STORY: Vaccine mandates in the Supreme Court

We have been following several different vaccine mandates and potential impacts to truck drivers in January.

In the United States, the Supreme Court struck down a vaccine mandate from OSHA that would have applied to businesses with more than 100 employees. We don’t have to speculate anymore about a mandate’s impact on capacity, even though truck drivers would have fallen under existing exemptions for remote and outdoor workers. Additionally, a mandate is no longer a concern for industry government contractors because of the court’s decision.

On January 15, 2022, the Canadian government implemented a vaccine mandate for all inbound truck drivers to Canada. On January 22, 2022, the U.S. government will implement a similar vaccine mandate for inbound freight from both Canada and Mexico. Truck drivers from Mexico already must demonstrate proof of vaccination to qualify for the B1 Visa program, so expect little or no impact from this mandate on the southern border.

The northern border, however, may see some uncertainty and disruption since this is the first vaccine mandate that would apply to truck drivers in that trade lane. While Canadian-based drivers haul 80% or more of cross-border loads, best estimates are that 10–15% percent of drivers in Canada may not be vaccinated.

Finally, on January 1, 2022, the Mexican government began soft implementation of the new “carta porte” filing requirement with the Mexican tax authority. This has already caused some delays due to paperwork, as shippers and carriers are adjusting to the new requirements.

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Blog

Market Insights Vlog: Strategies for Shipping in Mexico

October 13, 2021 | 8:13 AM EST
C.H. Robinson 3PL volatility webinar
Webinar

Achieving Agility During Volatility: Supply Chain Insights from Leading Shippers

Learn how the right combination of market insights, tech innovations, and transportation best practices create agile, resilient supply chains.