Freight and Economic Market Insights

Last Update November 19, 2020:



Stay informed about freight market conditions, supply and demand influencers, and other factors that can impact your supply chain.

The following information is built on market data from public sources and C.H. Robinson’s information advantage—based on our experience, data, and scale. Use these insights to stay informed, make decisions designed to mitigate your risk, and avoid disruptions to your supply chain.

In this edition of our bi-weekly update, we cover both the spot and contract truckload markets; LTL, ocean, intermodal, cross border, and produce shipping information.

Truckload

Weeks 46 and 47 continue the market recovery experience of demand outstripping supply. Key metrics of supply and demand persist, and labor continues to be a central narrative. Through October, the U.S. truckload market did not return all lost trucking jobs, nor did it experience its seasonal growth of supply, further exacerbating the supply and demand imbalance.

The following insights showcase a portfolio of market perspectives for both the spot and the committed markets as well as a reminder of the historical experience of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.


Thanksgiving truck postings 2020

Thanksgiving

In October we shared a 10-year perspective of the spot market lens with the insight that loads to truck posting (“LTP”) pressure softens on Wednesday, Thanksgiving day, and Friday, then climbs Saturday through Monday, settling on Tuesday back to average. This is a factor of supply and demand’s movement together. We offer the 10-year average truck posting history as perspective to change in active supply through this holiday period in hopes it offers perspective to order/sales strategies on either side of Thanksgiving.

ATA SA TruckLoads index

Truckload volume

This month we look to ACT Research perspectives for demand and supply. In ACT’s November Freight Forecast, they offer ATA’s seasonally adjusted loads index and a narrative citing some optimism around COVID-19 vaccine use and shifting consumer behaviors leading to a net increase of 2% load volume in 2021. (Figure 2)

USA Class 8 Active TL and LTL tractor population

Truck supply

ACT has amended its 2020 class-8 tractor fleet contraction to only 5,000, down from 30,000 only a few months ago. Orders are picking up and carriers are speaking of opportunity in dedicated and for-hire segments. It will take time to experience the growth of capacity. As such, the net increase that ACT is forecasting for 2021 is 2%. (Figure 3)

Load truck ratio over time | C.H. Robinson

Spot market update

The spot truckload market in the U.S. continues to experience the greatest load to truck ratios (“LTR”) of the past six years (Figure 4), showing some slight improvement of late in week 46. This nationwide average is still bounded by balanced origins with others at 15-20:1 LTR.
DAT LT ratio heat map

Markets of note

Week 46’s regional representation of the U.S. spot market (Figure 5) continues to show a wide range of load to truck ratios in DAT’s data. Much of the Midwest continues to be at a challenging 5:1 LTR. The Southern California port markets are expected to continue to be capacity challenged with forecasted import volume needing truck capacity for inland movement.

The contract truckload environment

Analysts suggest that the contract/committed truckload market is roughly 75%-85% of the truckload market depending on market cycle and nuances to measuring the market. The spot market discussed above is a leading indicator to the broader market. The broader contract/committed market is more difficult to measure because those relationships are held in Transportation Management Systems (“TMS”), and other datasets at the shipper and supplier level vs. more publicly available views from spot market trading platforms. What follows are some perspectives and notes on today’s environment from TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson.
Routing guide depth map; Nov 19 2020

Route guide performance: the contract truckload market

Route guide performance is often measured by looking at a couple key metrics. Route guide depth (“RGD”) is the necessary depth into a route guide for loads to be accepted or the average number of tenders per load. The week of November 8th saw 1.84 as the average RGD. The other measurement tool is first tender acceptance (“FTA”) or the percent of time the primary (intended) supplier accepts the shipment tender. The week of November 8th experienced 81%.

This week’s map (Figure 6) reflects week over week change in RGD. This is a lens to the committed market trends. A decrease in the percent means there are fewer rejections of tenders, and loads are accepted higher in the route guide. The week of November 8th showed improvement from many state origins, yet it shows the committed market is struggling like the spot market in California and several key Midwest states like IL and IN.

Additional contract market summary points:

  • 400-600 mile loads continue to struggle more than shorter and longer loads at a RGD of ~2.2.
  • Consistent two-week average and sequential nationwide RGD at ~1.84.
  • Midwest has highest RGD of ~2.3.
  • FTA in October lost a point to 81% as compared to September 2020 at 82% and October 2019 at 91%.

Truckload summary

We close the truckload section with two perspectives: voice of the carrier and strategies to get the most from any market cycle.

In this time where truckload pricing is escalating, we can forget some of the real business challenges that are central to operations and profitability of a carrier. Today, carriers continue to face increasing insurance costs, increasing driver wages, and a smaller candidate pool. The current supply side is a challenge of both recruitment and retention of drivers as well as a 4.5-month lead time to get new tractors. The market tension from the supply side requires some time to work its way to a position of parity with demand.

As noted in our earlier reports, C.H. Robinson’s research portfolio offers insights regarding tight markets (undersupplied), freight attributes, and business processes that are less favorable to the economics of trucking.

From our portfolio of work, we offer some considerations and strategies to help get the most this market and any market can offer:

  • For strategy and performance measurement, segment lanes by freight attributes.
  • Use suppliers that are best served for the attributes of the freight.
  • Use suppliers with higher historical performance.
  • Add lead time of shipment tender to lanes with less predictable demand patterns.
  • Reduce dwell (load/unload time) as much as possible.

Please engage your C.H. Robinson representative for more details on these insights in an effort to help you get the most any market can offer. In addition, our sophisticated procurement approach, Procure IQTMcan help our clients gain insights to how their freight aligns with the market and C.H. Robinson’s customized capacity strategy.

Less Than Truckload (LTL)

  • Strong volumes will continue through holiday peak season with carriers prioritizing shippers exit California.
  • October ISM-PMI continues to strengthen at 59.32 1
  • During peak season shipping, we recommend that clients prioritize shipments:
    • Highest priority shipments will be well served to ship a few days early and consideration to purchase guaranteed service is advised.
    • Explore capacity options such as utilizing additional common carriers, use of C.H. Robinson’s consolidation network, and exploring economy and asset light carriers.

Parcel

  • “Shipaggeddon” has been coined the 2020 holiday parcel season with as many as 7 million packages per day short fall on capacity. Source: NBC news
  • Many shifts in consumer behaviors and loyalties are expected to be new preferences. Source: News Break

Intermodal shipping

  • Loads into California are still actively sought to address the outbound demand needs.
  • Container capacity is challenged due to trapped containers and high demand.
  • Dray capacity challenges have progressed to include all major markets.

Cross-boarder

Mexico-U.S. border insights

  • October 1st Mexican Norma Oficial Mexicana (“NOM”) regulation change on SKU level labeling continues to put stress on border warehousing and create long dwell events.
  • Trade volume imbalance continues, resulting in average northbound load to truck ratios of approximately 8:1 for all ports of entry. The only exception is exit Nogales where there is elevated load to truck ratios of approximately 15:1 caused by inbound produce from Sonora and Sinoloa, Mexico.
  • Repositioning trucks at a cost to cover miles and time continues to be a strategy for priority shipments.

Intra Canada and Canada-U.S. border insights

  • Northbound truck volumes reported down slightly during the week of November 2-8. The balance between overall northbound and southbound capacity remains near equilibrium.
  • Increased demand from California to Canada (produce and consumer goods ahead of Black Friday and Christmas) have resulted in strains on supply. Costs are expected to settle at current levels for the foreseeable future.

Temperature controlled

The “transition” known by most in the West agribusiness is occurring this week, where lettuce and vegetable operations transition from the Salinas, CA valley to Yuma, AZ. This means a decrease in Salinas Valley demand and an increase in Yuma, AZ outbound along with a shift in capacity. Be prepared to see a slight increase in transactional rates out of Yuma, AZ as we typically experience during this transitionary period. C.H. Robinson’s temperature control services are available to develop and execute a capacity strategy around these market factors.

  • Broadly, Q4 protein (beef, pork, poultry) historical volumes in the mid-south and Midwest appear slightly down as COVID-19 is impacting family gathering plans.
  • California outbound capacity continues to be strained, whereas its intrastate is trending to a more balanced environment.
  • The Pacific NW’s historical Q4 tension is settling in as apples, pears, and Christmas tree volumes begin.

Global

Ocean

  • Vessels are fully booked from China and S.E Asia to the U.S. through mid-December.
  • Empty container availability is a dire issue in China and S.E Asia for lanes to the U.S.
  • Growing concern for chassis shortages and dray capacity in the U.S. North East and Pacific SW due to high import volumes.
  • Dwell times at ports across the U.S. have increased materially due to the influx of volumes and increased COVID-19 cases amongst port labor.

Air

  • Air freight demand globally is high relative to capacity as we are in the traditional peak season.
  • New technology releases and eCommerce driving significant demand out of Asia will continue through the month of November.
  • Technology products tend to use truckload services for inland North American moves to help with control of high value products.
  • Many airline terminals are seeing extreme congestion. In some cases, drivers are waiting 8+ hours in line to be loaded.

Produce Sourcing

Robinson Fresh-Product Supply Chain Insights

robinson fresh logo

The Robinson Fresh division remains fully operational, and there are no impacts to supply chains to date.

  • We are seeing an increase in demand for fresh commodities as we approach the holiday season and will continue to watch this closely.
  • With increased commodity demand, refrigerated trucking demand tends to follow.

Thank you for being a valued customer

We invite our clients to engage their C.H. Robinson or TMC commercial representative to discuss collaborative strategies designed to offer quick and effective response. Our modal expertise and capacity portfolio afford for elasticity in full and partial load shipments to help minimize service disruptions in this unique market.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact your C.H. Robinson or TMC commercial representative for further information or look up any of the services listed within this report at www.chrobinson.com.


References

Figures