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Trucking Industry

Middle of the Road for the Trucking Industry

Of all the industries that American consumers have come to rely on, perhaps the most underrated, and subsequently complex, is that of the transportation industry. While the laws of supply and demand will affect every form of business it is perhaps the most volatile and fluctuating when applied to the transportation industry. Last year was a great year for trucking companies, demand was high, capacity was low, and it allowed them to more or less pick and choose the jobs they wanted to do.

With so many wild swings in one direction or another, we’re entering a period of “new” balance that no one is quite sure of.

Shippers, for their part, have accepted the higher rates as an understood cost of business, but with so many wild swings in one direction or another, we’re entering a period of “new” balance that no one is quite sure of. Shippers that turned to contracts to escape the high rates are now making a return to the spot market as there’s plenty of available capacity currently on the market.

Aptly put, this “muddy middle” for the trucking department is a rare moment when supply and demand have reached something of an equilibrium, something that hasn’t been seen for years. Spot rates for FTL have dropped upwards of 12 percent from this time last year while contract rates, on the other hand, have climbed up 14 percent in 2018 according to data from DAT Solutions and Truckstop.com. Shippers that turned to contracts to escape the high rates are now making a return to the spot market as there’s plenty of available capacity currently on the market.

Given such a high volume of transference, it might have actually created an overly strong demand on contract rates which would have caused them to increase.

It’s rather reasonable at this point to speculate that the current shift towards the muddy middle was caused by overcompensations. Beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) reacted to the rate spike mid 2017 by shifting over to contract rates. Given such a high volume of transference, it might have actually created an overly strong demand on contract rates which would have caused them to increase.

Going into 2019, carriers and 3PLs were using terms such as “balanced” and “equilibrium” to describe the current state of the market. However, that might not be entirely accurate, or, at least not strong enough of a prediction to hold fast in the days to come.

The transportation industry is precariously balanced amidst two slippery slopes and it could go one way or the other.

“With contract and spot rates currently headed in different directions, it’s unclear exactly how this will all play out. IHS Markit chief economist Nariman Behravesh put the odds of a recession in 2019 at around 30 percent but upped that chance to 50-50 for 2020. A recession would mean lower cargo volumes, which would drive down both contract and spot rates, creating a buyer’s market,” according to an article from the JOC. Hence, the muddy middle. The transportation industry is precariously balanced amidst two slippery slopes and it could go one way or the other.

Hitting Bottom

Given the nature of the industry, balance doesn’t tend to last overly long. Eventually, rates will break either one way or the other to someone’s advantage (or disadvantage depending on your perspective.)

“A lot of shippers who started the process in the third or fourth quarter, they saw the rates [moving] in the right direction for them, so they actually held out on releasing the awards until mid-January or even into February,” said Mark Ford, our very own chief operating officer here at BlueGrace Logistics. “Shippers are trying to figure out where that bottom is, throwing out their routing guides, and going to the spot market depending on the cost differential.”

Shippers aren’t the only one that has a card or two up their sleeve.

Given that time is such a commodity, shippers have the power to drive rates in either direction, depending on what value they attribute to their time. However, shippers aren’t the only one that has a card or two up their sleeve. Given a recent downturn in the trucker pool in addition to more stringent regulations that make it harder to operate, carriers might have a little more say about carrier rates than one might expect.

A Drop In the Trucker Pool

While shippers can garner some power to affect rates, that doesn’t mean that carriers aren’t without an answer. A recent report from the Wall Street Journal states that carriers have cut payrolls by 1,200 jobs last month, owing largely to a softening of demand at the tail of a profit-boosting hot streak all through 2018. The drop in demand for new trucks is also a good indicator of a softening in the trucking sector.

“Orders for Class-8 trucks – the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US to feed the goods-based economy – plunged 52% in April compared to April last year, to 16,400 orders, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence on Friday. It was the lowest April since 2016 when the industry cycled through its last transportation recession. This comes after orders had already plunged 67% year-over-year in March, 58% in February and January, and 43% in December,” reads a recent article from Wolfstreet.

The flip-side of that particular coin is that warehousing and storage company job positions have been on the rise, up 1,700 in March alone, likely due to the continual increase on online consumer shopping. Same can be said for courier and messenger companies that make last mile deliveries.

In general, the transportation market, which has been ramping up over 2017 and 2018 is beginning to slow down, allowing them to control their overall available capacity and their spot or contract rates as a result.

Utilization seems to be the key to determining which way the rates will go. Shippers should be using this time to consider how they can vastly reduce their load times and what sort of effect that would have on the available capacity in the market. Given that there’s no clear indication of which way the market winds will blow next, focusing on optimization and utilization could be the necessary elements to not only help drive rates down, but to keep them down.

For carriers, the means of reaching a perpetual middle of the road would be to find alternative service offerings as well as increasing their focus on last mile deliveries. Doing so allows them to provide more value to their customers and increase their profit margins as a result.

Navigating Through Industry Changes

BlueGrace helps our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we are here to simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today!

Attracting the Next Generation of Truckers

As time changes, the views and opinions of the generations that follow will also change. As the baby boomers are beginning to approach the golden age of retirement, new generations are starting to step up to the plate. This is creating a shakeup for the global economy as a whole. We’re seeing a change in aspirations as well as life goals in those that are entering the workforce. For some industries, it has created a renaissance of new ideas, innovations, leaders, and visionaries.

Simply put, the U.S trucking industry is facing a driver shortage of which it has never seen before.

Other sectors, like the trucking industry, might have a harder time attracting new prospects. Simply put, the U.S trucking industry is facing a driver shortage of which it has never seen before. As manufacturing and retail sales continue to increase, shippers and carriers alike are scrambling to find the capacity to keep freight moving, resulting in many shipments being up-charged or left behind. “A 2017 report by the American Trucking Association noted that the industry needs to hire almost 900,000 more drivers to meet rising demand, while the latest jobs report noted that 185,000 jobs have been added over the past four months alone,” according to a recent article from MSNBC 

 “The shipping infrastructure is facing a tight capacity crunch this year, and the small to mid-sized business shipper will feel the upward pressure in raised rates due to the lack of drivers and trucks available,” said Tim Story, EVP of freight operations at Unishippers. “The new mandate could result in a 4-8 percent loss in capacity (available trucks on the road).” 

To make matters worse, the average age of truck drivers on the road today is 55, which means many will be considering retirement in the near future. As qualified drivers begin to leave the field, there is a concern that there won’t be enough new drivers to replace them. In order to attract fresh blood and new talent for the industry, trucking companies are focusing their efforts on the newest generation of up and coming young adults: the self-oriented Millennials, who are in their twenties and thirties.  

Trucking is a Hard Sell  

While there is plenty of talent to choose from in the millennial pool, trucking is a hard sell when it comes to attracting new drivers. Truck driving doesn’t necessarily carry the glamorous reputation that some industries might have. Long hours and time spent away from home seem to be a deterrent for many who would consider getting behind the wheel.

While some trucking companies are willing to foot the bill for the education, that’s not a universal standard – at least not yet.  

Additionally, there’s the need for a CDL commercial driver’s license which is required to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds. It takes both time and money to obtain. While some trucking companies are willing to foot the bill for the education, that’s not a universal standard – at least not yet.  

With that being said, it’s still a considerable commitment for someone fresh out of school who is trying to decide what to do with their life. Younger drivers will also be facing an age barrier as well as you need to be 21 and over to be able to cross state lines. Even if trucking companies were able to recruit younger drivers, there’s still going to be a time restraint before a young aspirant can become a full-fledged trucker.  That timing can make a big difference too. A millennial fresh out of high school isn’t able to enter into the field, which means by the time they can they’ve likely moved on to a different career field. Recruitment is also proving to be a challenge for the trucking industry as well.

Until a recruitment solution is identified, it will continue to be a problem.

While many trucking companies are starting to pay for ad space on social media sites in an attempt to find new drivers, the cost vs. yield is out of balance. “Carriers are having to spend more money on advertising to get people to apply, but only getting one to two drivers out of each 100 applications they receive,” said Story. “Between the training required, predominantly male-dominated field, age hurdles and more, carriers are having to pay drivers higher rates that will continue to increase. Right now, there aren’t enough qualified drivers in the applicant pool to satisfy the needs of the industry. Until a recruitment solution is identified, it will continue to be a problem.”  

Changing the Demographic  

Another issue for the trucking industry is that it is predominately male. According to Ellen Voie the president and CEO of the Women In Trucking (WIT) Association, only about seven percent of the entire trucking fleet in the U.S is made up of women. While this made sense for the physical requirements necessary twenty years ago, that’s no longer the case. “There’s very little physical exertion anymore,” says Voie “Even the hood releases and the dollies are hydraulic. You just push a button. WIT’s mission is to work with truck manufacturers and trucking companies alike to promote women in the industry and to help reduce the obstacles faced by women in the trucking industry. By making the industry more accessible for women, it will help to ease the driver shortage by increasing the available pool of drivers to get behind the wheel.   

Autonomous Trucks Will be Good for the Industry  

Conventional wisdom believes that automated trucking will simply remove the need for human drivers, but that isn’t the case, or at least it won’t be for quite some time. However, the trucking industry does stand to gain from the addition of autonomous trucking.

While Millennials might hold the keys to the future, reaching out to them will be the challenge.  

Autonomous trucks will still need a human driver to navigate urban settings as well as handling the more intricate aspects of entering and exiting highways. The technological aspect alone can help to attract younger drivers, while the added safety features might make the field more accessible to younger drivers and women alike while reducing the amount of training necessary to get them on the road. In any event, the trucking industry has its work cut out for it, especially as the driver shortage problem continues to worsen. While Millennials might hold the keys to the future, reaching out to them will be the challenge.  

Ready to Launch A Career in the Logistics Industry?

BlueGrace partners with the industry’s best in class LTL, Truckload and Expedited carriers. If you are ready to learn the in’s and out’s of the transportation industry, CLICK HERE to launch your logistics career and see all the positions available throughout the country at BlueGrace. We are constantly awarded a best place to work and love to see our employees succeed!

The Silver-Lining of Superstorm Sandy

With initial estimates of economic losses due to Sandy reaching into the $30-$50 billion range, it’s strange to think that there could actually be a silver-lining to such a detrimental cloud. And in fact, the trucking industry alone suffered around a whopping $140 million per day loss. This number is based on 20% of the industry not moving freight because of Sandy’s aftermath. However, with these dismal numbers at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s wise to note that some trucking companies do actually benefit from natural disasters.

The clean-up and rebuilding phase following the super storm is what gives the transportation industry its light at the end of the tunnel. Fleets are expected to see an increase in activity in the coming months with demand on the rise. Construction companies and the flatbed carriers that haul their materials will experience quite the surge.

Flatbed carriers aren’t the only ones to have a boost in freight, however. Dry van carriers will also see a boom in business with retailers needing to replenish depleted goods on store shelves. Though many will experience a loss initially, the storm’s resulting damage will create new demand later. The immediate need for restocking, for example, is one that only the time-sensitive characteristic of trucking can provide. Not only is it excess work because everything is rushed, it’s also out of normal route, and people are willing to pay more. All of this in turn, leads to a faster recovery for the industry. FTR (Freight Transportation Research Association) Senior Consultant Noel Perry predicts that the losses caused by the storm, will ultimately be recovered due to resupply and rebuilding truck freight needs. Perry predicts the storm will generate $15 billion in additional revenue for trucking over the next three or four quarters.

Sandy’s disruption to replenishing food, gas and other goods serves as a glaring reminder that freight transportation is the backbone that supports our everyday life.  Whether a storm for you causes a loss or a sudden boom in business, you still need to have a plan for whatever comes next. Though you cannot predict, you can prepare. Check out the checklist we developed to help prepare your supply chain for natural disasters!

Have your own tips or precautions that you take in preparation for the unpredictable? Fill us in here so we can all benefit!

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