Trucking markets: Brokerage margins compressed in Q1

The first quarter of the year is typically a time of wider gross margins for freight brokerages as new contract awards come online but spot rates stay relatively low on weak seasonal demand. It’s different this time, though – a full year of weak rates has made shippers more aggressive, even though carriers have little left to give. 

That meant that across the industry, we saw freight brokerage margins compress in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the year prior. This happened at C.H. Robinson, which fought hard and priced aggressively to grow revenues in a soft environment, and it looks to be the case at XPO Logistics, which reported Q1 results yesterday.

XPO’s North America freight brokerage business saw gross revenues contract by 5.3% year-over-year to $586 million – clearly, there was only so much margin Jacobs & co. were willing to sacrifice to hold on to volume. Margins compressed by 300 basis points year-over-year to 17.5%, resulting in an 18.8% hit to net revenues, which fell to $103 million for Q1. 

Uber reports its earnings on Thursday, May 7, and we’ll see whether Uber Freight was able to recover from a disappointing Q4 2019, when gross revenues fell quarter-on-quarter for the first time. Significant growth from Uber Freight would come in the face of what we can only imagine is a dramatically higher cash burn rate at the overall company, given collapsing Rides demand.

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