Over the course of 2016, logisticians and freight business professionals helped U.S. business costs decline for the first time since 2009, even as the booming e-commerce sector “propelled demand” for small parcel delivery services. In the meantime, the traditional transport modes—trucking, rail, water and air cargo—were challenged in 2016 by overcapacity, rate pressures and sluggish demand.
Overall, U.S. business logistics costs fell 34 basis points last year to a near-record 7.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), a number that’s just off the record of 7.4% of GDP set in the Great Recession year of 2009. By comparison, in 1979, the last year before the Motor Carrier Actderegulated the interstate trucking industry, logistics costs were over 18% of GDP in the regulated environment.
These are the major takeaways from the “28th Annual State of Logistics Report (SoL)” co-authored by A.T. Kearney and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) and sponsored by Penske. According to the reported entitled “Accelerating Into Uncertainty,” profit margins were squeezed in 2016 across most modes—parcel being the only exception. Contrary to popular belief, this fact is quite worrisome to some shippers, who remain concerned that bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions will leave them with fewer choices—and sharply higher rates.
“From the shipper point of view, it’s about rate management,” said Miguel Gonzalez, director of global logistics for DuPont, during the official release last month at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “More and more companies are relying on strategic partners, so the question remains: ‘How do we mitigate risks?’ The report reflects the reality we live in.”
Other areas of uncertainty involve the new Trump administration, confusion over export levels amid talk of higher tariffs in international trade, and unsure measures to upgrade U.S. infrastructure and trade policy.
The report acknowledges such uncertainty by noting: “The logistics industry appears destined for a prolonged bout of ‘cognitive dissonance.’” The authors contend that this is due to continued frustration over subpar growth in overall GDP while watching the stock market, technology investments and consumer confidence all rise. To top it off, that uncertainty has not slowed the pace of change. As an example of this volatility, shippers have to look no further than demands on their trucking partners. For example, the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) advanced seasonally adjusted “For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index” increased 6.5% in May, following a 1.5% decline during April. Such volume disruptions are typical of what logisticians are seeing across all modes in most markets.
“On the contrary, industries are churning with disruption, as newcomers and incumbents vie for market share and innovation undermines old business models,” say the report authors. “One thing is certain: ‘business as usual’ won’t return.”