Carriers, fighting to add capacity, still reaping the rewards of sky-high rates
Added capacity has been hard to come by over the past year for motor carriers, both in the form of equipment and drivers to operate said equipment, but that hasn’t stopped trucking companies from making hay while the sun shines.
Two publicly traded fleets, Marten Transport and Heartland Express, this week announced they were paying 50-cent-per-share dividends to stockholders based on record-setting second quarters for revenue and profit. Likewise, carriers’ brokerage operations have become increasingly lucrative this year, with brokerage revenue as a percentage of overall revenue hitting an all-time high this year.
Multiple rates tracking firms and forecasters also said the momentum for motor carriers is likely here to stay for the foreseeable future. Both spot market and contract rates have soared to record highs amid the market imbalance, and that’s despite supply chain kinks and parts shortages that have generally slowed output and put a drag on overall freight volume.
Based on these strong earnings and the need to boost capacity to keep up with demand, carriers are upping the ante on driver recruiting. Cowan Systems, for example, announced this week it’s offering a $15,000 guaranteed bonus to new hires, with up to $20,000 for those who join by Oct. 1. After driver retention stabilized in 2020 when the economy slowed, the strength of the recovery — and carriers in competition for driver recruits — has pushed driver turnover rates higher once again. It’s also prompted carriers to start looking for new avenues for driver recruits outside of the industry.
More broadly, the supply chain’s even messier — and pressure’s mounting ahead of peak season
Upstream from domestic trucking and its ongoing supply and demand imbalances (aka the amount of freight needed to be moved vs. available trucking capacity to move it), the global transportation supply chain is in an even more dire state of chaos.
Maritime shipping, in particular, has become a source of major disruption to the supply chain as a whole, with jammed port operations, rolling shutdowns at Chinese ports, fight for container space on shipping vessels, and soaring rates all causing concern — particularly as peak shipping season ahead of the holidays looms.
The climbing costs of maritime cargo shipping, not to mention trucking rates, could put upward pressure on prices on retail goods across the spectrum — and cause rolling shortages on store shelves and in e-comm availability.
And those shortages might not only impact gift giving — but general holiday merriment, too. Jack Daniels’ parent company and other distillers have already sounded the alarm about the potential for a liquor shortage this holiday season, due to supply chain disruptions. Crox, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, and Hasbro, among others, have also noted the potential for product shortages as transportation capacity simply isn’t keeping up with demand.
Walmart…the logistics company?
Obviously running a global retail network as large as Walmart’s requires a savvy and complex logistics and transportation arm. This week, Walmart announced it’s making part of that logistics arm available as a for-hire entity, in which it will sell local delivery service to other retailers.
Details are yet scant, but Walmart’s move in some ways tracks with Amazon’s push in recent years to run its own brokerage network, with the goal of buying up transportation capacity and either using it for its own distribution network — or selling it to other shippers. These charts compiled by Supply Chain Dive this month reveal the extent to which Amazon has built out its massive logistics and transportation network over the past several years.
However, Walmart’s announcement this week is centered more on local delivery, putting it in competition with those like DoorDash, Instacart, and Uber Eats.
Nonetheless, whether it’s fighting for space on Class 8 big rigs and 53-foot tractor-trailers to move products across country or finding delivery vans and for-hire local shopper networks for last-mile deliveries, transportation networks have quickly become a primary front for the reinvention of retail — and the ongoing fight for position in the next phase of e-commerce.