The possible end of the extended unemployment insurance program next week, COVID-19 outbreaks in many states, uncertainty in consumer demand, and rising retail warehouse inventories make current truckload industry predictions a little cloudy. Some factors such as several recent data points suggesting inventories are rising faster than sales lead us to believe not all is well, but could be looking up. The latest Logistics Managers Index showed June inventory levels jumped up by 7.6% month-over-month after being relatively flat for all of March, April, and May. Warehouse capacity has been contracting for four consecutive months, with the largest decrease in June dropping by a further 6% to its lowest level since the index began in early 2018. The latest manufacturing and sales inventory report published last week by the Census Bureau showed that the inventory-to-sales ratio improved slightly to 1.51 in May from 1.67 in April which is a step in the right direction. From a freight recovery perspective, high inventory-to-sales ratios will eventually translate to lower truckload volumes.
Coronavirus cases are down globally, up nationally, and unsurprisingly still making the markets unpredictable. However, truckload markets may be reaching normalcy for the first time in what feels like a long four month of instability.
Air Freight Rates: China and North America
Ocean rates were stable this past week, kept up by tightened capacity to meet the low demand. Some carriers announced they were reinstating a small number of sailings from Asia to the US in June, and others announced increased rates to Europe from Asia. This may be partly due to carriers overestimating how low demand would fall, but there are also signs of increases in bookings. Some forwarders report a muted seasonal-driven uptick in US orders, while some indicators suggest supply chain activity is picking up in Europe as many countries ease restrictions. Shipments out of South East Asia indicate that while China has regained its pre-COVID-19 level of interest, it is no longer as dominant as it was last year, with its share dropping 5 percentage points to 90%. China-US West Coast prices (FBX01 Daily) down by 2% since last week to $1636/FEU. Rates are 32% higher than rates in 2019 at this time. On a positive note China-US East Coast prices (FBX03 Daily) are just 1% lower than last week, reaching $2578/FEU, and are even with rates for this week last year. However, Shanghai Containerized Freight Index spot price per 40-foot equivalent unit for transport to the U.S. West Coast recently reached $2,097 last week, up 25% from the week before to the highest price this year.