This week’s DHL Supply Chain Pricing Power Index: 75 (Carriers)
Last week’s DHL Supply Chain Pricing Power Index: 70 (Carriers)
Three-month DHL Supply Chain Pricing Power Index Outlook: 70 (Carriers)
The DHL Supply Chain Pricing Power Index uses the analytics and data in FreightWaves SONAR to analyze the market and estimate the negotiating power for rates between shippers and carriers.
The Pricing Power Index is based on the following indicators:
Load volumes: Absolute levels positive for carriers, momentum neutral
The Outbound Tender Volume Index at 15,980 is nominally higher now than basically at any point in the past 12 months with the exception of the week prior to Thanksgiving/Black Friday last year. OTVI captures all electronic tenders, including rejected ones, so when accounting for the rejection rate, we can get an even more accurate look at volumes.
OTVI rose through the back half of May into the national holiday and has risen even further since. Throughout the back half of May and into the middle of June, tender rejections declined substantially. Meaning, current volume throughput is actually understated when comparing OTVI now to OTVI in November 2020. After adjusting for rejected tenders, the accepted outbound tender volume index is just 2.2% below the 2020 peak in November. At that time, OTVI surged towards 17,000, but the rejection rate moved in-kind towards its natural ceiling of 28%. So, the total accepted freight tenders in mid-June is comparable to the peakiest of peak seasons in 2020. Incredible.
However, since the middle of June, tender rejections have begun increasing again heading into Independence Day, a time when many drivers spend time off the road with their families. The move higher in OTVI this week has been driven primarily by higher rejection rates, rather than higher freight demand.
Over the past month, the drivers of freight volumes have continued to be imports and from just about every port. The west coast continues to provide seemingly non-stop container ships, while Houston, New Orleans, Miami and Savannah are seeing very strong throughput as well.
It is van volumes that are driving freight markets higher right now. The Reefer Outbound Tender Volume index has tumbled 25% since its all-time high in the weeks after the polar vortex in February. Since Memorial Day, ROTVI has fallen another 10.5%. This is likely a factor of declining grocery demand, but I would expect the trend to reverse course in the near future as summer festivities accelerate.
Dry van volumes pushed higher in the back half of May and into June while reefer volumes have declined significantly.
The congestion at our nation’s ports has spread from Los Angeles and Long Beach to Oakland, California. The California coastline is a parking lot of container ships, most of which are full to the brim with imports, awaiting berth. As detailed in the economic section, there are some signs that the reversion is underway with Americans paring back spending on pandemic superstar categories in favor of airlines, lodging and entertainment. But spending remains strong despite the moderation, and low inventory levels offset much of the decline that will occur from slowing demand. Real inventories are 3% higher now than pre-pandemic, but real sales growth is far outpacing inventory growth, leading to the lowest inventory-to-sales ratio in decades.
On the manufacturing side, the ISM Manufacturing PMI expanded in May after declining in April. We’ve been in expansionary territory for 12 consecutive months. New orders, production, imports/exports and employment are all growing. The major issues should come as no surprise: Deliveries are slowing, backlogs are growing and inventories are too low.
In all, there are many, many catalysts to keep freight demand strong for the foreseeable future. Americans are traveling and spending on services at a high clip, but the high savings rate is enabling it to occur without a massive detriment to goods spending.
Tender rejections: Absolute level and momentum positive for carriers
After declining steadily from mid-March to mid-May, the Outbound Tender Reject Index has reversed course heading into Independence Day. This is typical for a national holiday as carriers selectively choose loads to bring drivers closer to home. OTRI now sits above 25% for the first time in June.
One of our newest indices in SONAR gives us the ability to compare markets on as close to an apples-to-apples basis as possible. FreightWaves’ Carrier Trend Market Score indices are divided into two perspectives – shipper/broker and carrier. The scores are positioned on a scale from 1-100 and have values measuring van and refrigerated (reefer) capacity. The higher values represent more favorable trends for whichever perspective. For instance, a value near the high-end of the range would suggest very favorable conditions for carriers in our carrier capacity trend score index.
For the past several weeks, capacity disparities have been driven by import volumes. The markets with the tightest carrier capacity coincide with the nation’s busiest ports. Ontario, California, Savannah, Georgia, and Atlanta all have carrier capacity trend market scores of 100.
By mode. Reefer rejection rates tumbled from it’s all-time high in March to under 35% in mid-June before popping higher over the past two weeks. Reefer rejections are still quite high from a historical standpoint at 38%, but are significantly lower than just three months ago when reefer carriers were rejecting half of all electronically tendered loads.
Dry van tenders make up the majority of all tenders, so the van rejection rate mirrors the aggregate index closely. Van rejections have surged from ~23% to ~26% over the past two weeks.
Yes, one-in-four loads being rejected is not ideal, but it’s better than 30%. I am unaware of any meaningful signals that capacity is being added at a rate that would change my outlook. With so many catalysts for demand, and many constraints on drivers including the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, driver training school closures and continued government unemployment benefits, the outlook is tight throughout this year and into 2022. That’s not to say we won’t see improvement as consumers revert to pre-pandemic spending habits and drivers enter or reenter the market. But I’m not expecting any quick reversal of this environment; there are simply too many catalysts driving volume and suppressing capacity.
Freight rates: Absolute level and momentum positive for carriers
Throughout June, spot rates have moderated while contract rates have pushed higher. The Truckstop.com dry van rate per mile (incl. fuel) has fallen from $3.21 to $3.11 since the beginning of June, while FreightWaves van contract rates have risen from $2.50 to $2.59/mile, exclusive of fuel.
I still believe the Truckstop.com dry van national average will not retest the post-vortex surge pricing that brought spot rates up to an all-time high of $3.30. But, there aren’t many catalysts to bring spot rates down anytime soon either. Demand is unwavering with continued strong consumer goods demand, humming industrial recovery and a potentially cooling, yet still sizzling, hot housing market. And carriers can’t fill enough trucks to keep up with demand.
Prior to the seasonal movements we’re seeing in tender rejections, routing guides generally had been improving through Q2. We should continue to see a convergence between spot and contract rates, but spot rates will remain historically very elevated throughout the summer as demand simply outstrips capacity.
Economic stats: Momentum and absolute level neutral
Several economic releases this week are worth noting.
Weekly jobless claims were released Thursday and give us one of the best close-to-real-time indicators of the overall economy. This week, the data was again very promising as the labor market continues on a bumpy but trajectorially stable recovery path.
First-time filings totaled 411,000 for the week ended June 19, a slight decrease from the previous total of 418,000 but worse than the 380,000 Dow Jones estimate, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Initial claims have held above 400,000 for consecutive weeks after falling to a pandemic low of 374,000 three weeks ago. As things stand, the current level of initial claims is about double where it was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The good news on the jobs front is that continuing claims are on the decline, falling to 3.39 million, a drop of 144,000. That number runs a week behind the headline claims total.
Initial jobless claims (weekly in May 2020-May 2021)
At the time of writing, the newest weekly data for the week ending May 29 had not been updated in SONAR. This week, claims fell from 405,000 to 385,000.
Consumer. Turning to consumer spending, as measured by Bank of America weekly card (both debit and credit) spending data, total card spending (TCS) in the latest week accelerated to 22% over 2019. This is the first time in June that TCS has topped 20% over 2019, but spending has been running up 16-19% consistently on a two-year comp for months. For contect, the average pre-pandemic two-year growth rate was about 8% (from 2012 to 2019).
The Bank of America team highlighted service spending in the nation’s two largest state economies, California and New York, which are now fully reopened. Spending at restaurants is now well above 2019 in both states, and the team believes there is more capacity for spending to accelerate in the states that were slower to reopen given pent-up demand.
There was also a notable acceleration in spending on clothing this week, according to Bank of America. It could be a reversal from some softening in the early weeks of June, or an indication of people refreshing wardrobes ahead of a return to work, more travel and vacations. One tepid statement for freight markets from this week;s report: Leisure spending is on the rise and durable goods spending is flatlining.
FreightWaves’ Flatbed Outbound Tender Reject Index, both a measure of relative demand and capacity, moves directionally with the ISM PMI.
Manufacturing. Over the past two weeks, regional manufacturing surveys have reported generally positive readings amid logistical challenges. The New York Fed’s Empire State business conditions index declined 6.9 points to 17.4 in June, retreating from strong readings the past two months. The Empire State Index is a diffusion index with a baseline of zero; any reading above zero indicates improving or expansionary conditions.
Delivery times lengthened to a new record during the month, new orders and shipments fell, and inventories entered negative territory. The supply chain and transportation challenges are as visible upstream as downstream, but overall the manufacturing sector is handling. Growth continued throughout the second quarter in both the Empire State and Philly Fed indices.
The Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s business activity index edged lower to a still robust 30.7 in June from 31.5 in the prior month. Unlike NY, the pace of shipments growth accelerated in the Philly region during June. The employment subcomponent rose to a very healthy 30.7 from 19.3 last month, the regional bank said.
Record-long lead times, wide-scale shortages of critical basic materials, rising commodities prices and difficulties in transporting products are continuing to affect all segments of the manufacturing economy, but demand remains strong.
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