By Eric Masotti, President, Trailer Bridge, Inc.
Happy New Year, everyone. A new year grants the opportunity for new predictions and if you recall last year, I published my 2021 Logistics predictions as “really bad” and that was probably the second most reliable prediction from the entire article. The best prediction however, had to be my Nostradamus-level prophecy of the Atlanta Braves becoming the 2021 World Series Champions. I recall receiving some reader comments about “Choke City” from the original article, but the Braves were undeterred and got Atlanta its well-deserved World Championship. Unfortunately, I did not put my money where my mouth was and was not able to cash in on this genius prognostication.
As far as my other 2021 predictions, some were close, some were not. 2021 was another year navigating the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Every company within the supply chain had to learn to quickly adapt otherwise they were potentially headed for a catastrophe. The term “Supply Chain” became a household phrase. Pretty amazing for a term describing the transportation and manufacturing industries rose to a level that it was trending in pop culture. I was asked about it by multiple family members at holiday celebrations, prodding me to relay my words of wisdom on the subject.
So, with 2021 now behind us, and all that we’ve been through, I feel a bit more assured predicting supply chain insights for 2022.
I think ocean pricing surprised all of us in 2021. I predicted we would continue to see the price of ocean cargo increase, but I don’t know anyone that could have guessed it to rise to the extent that it did. At the end of 2020, we saw prices for 40’ containers from Asia to the U.S. jump to $3K-4K. This was more than double the price we were seeing in July of 2020. In 2021, prices increased to more than $20K per container, multiple times, in the second half of the year.
I did get one prediction correct regarding the TEU volume at Long Beach. I expected that they could break 900K TEU’s in a single month and they were able to do just that in May. Unfortunately, even with unprecedented demand, they were not able to increase capacity in the second half of 2021. This is because of all the different factors from steamships, available containers, port availability, chassis pools, trucking capacity, receiving appointments, and transload availability that must move in unison to increase container throughput.
For 2022, COVID will remain a variable for ocean shipping. With China’s “zero COVID” policy (shutting down entire cities and ports for a small number of cases), it could lead to more port closures. As new variants of the virus emerge, they potentially will increase consumer purchasing patterns, keeping the freight rates at higher than normal. I expect pricing to remain above pre-pandemic averages, but by the second half of year, we should see some new capacity come onto the market and lead us away from transpacific costs above the $15K price.
I expected demand for trucking to peak in the first half of 2021. Well, demand was high in the first half, but capacity continued to get worse in the second half with pricing peaking in December.
Peak Monthly van per mile rate per DAT:
- 2021: I predicted $2.56, but as of December 2021, we were at a record high of $2.98.
- 2022: My expectation is we will reach $3.17 in the new year.
As the economy continues to adapt and flex, I think we will see pricing continuing to rise through the second quarter of ‘22. Businesses are buying and shipping earlier to make sure they have the necessary inventory without over purchasing, meaning they’ll continue to use the spot market or higher-priced carriers to cover their loads. Eventually, it should level out as shippers and carriers tailor to consumer behavior patterns and distribution patterns.
Class 8 Truck Orders:
The supply chain backlog has really impacted Class 8 truck orders. Companies are hesitant at placing new truck orders because the turnaround time may be over a year away. Most orders placed in 2021 have been pushed into 2022 due to a supply shortage. OEM’s are finding it difficult to plan production with the shortage of supplies and are canceling 2021 orders and rebooking those orders in 2022, sometimes at higher costs. In November, we actually saw only 9,800 orders, which is the lowest it has been in 26 years.
- 2021: I was actually really close on this one. I predicted the peak to be 45,000 and we actually got a peak of 44,000 in February.
- 2022: Peak of 49,000
I think this number will not peak until the second half of 2022. With no clear visibility on the easing of the “everything” shortage and worker availability, OEM’s will remain cautious in taking new orders for the sake of mitigating customer expectations. Manufacturers have overbooked orders almost every month since spring of 2021 and now are laser-focused on scheduling commitments in 2022. Supply chain problems are going to be a slow improvement but once the manufacturing sector can surpass the supply chain backlog, we’ll see orders pick back up to support the continuously rising freight volume.
Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A)
M&A was way up in 2021 compared to 2020. On the domestic side of freight transportation, I originally thought we would see some of the middle-tier carriers merge to better compete with the trucking leaders. With record earnings though, brings record valuations for these leading carriers, and that would make it more expensive for a combination deal like that to happen. What we ended up seeing in 2021 however, was larger transportation providers expanding their service offerings.
Based upon e-commerce demand, a lot of these acquisitions took place to gain greater supply chain visibility. Here is a quote from FreightWaves article, Why is Transportation M&A So Hot?: “While the book hasn’t closed on 2021, the aggregate value of transportation and logistics deals was up 84% year-over-year for the 12 months ended Nov. 15, according to data from audit and consulting firm PwC. Deal volume is already 11% higher than full-year 2020.”
I foresee this trend of service offering expansion to continue through 2022 by leading transportation and logistics providers. With e-commerce demand continuing to rise, logistics companies will monitor and develop a strategic reaction of how they can take a piece of the market. Some are already expanding their service offerings outside of their core business, like ocean carriers purchasing airplanes and distribution centers around the globe, for example. I would expect other logistics companies with large capital to pursue a similar path.
Some M&A’s from 2021 worth mentioning:
- ArcBest/ABF Freight acquired truckload broker MoLo Solutions
- Werner Enterprises acquired regional TL carrier and final-mile provider of ECM Transport Group
- Knight Swift added an LTL provider
Fuel prices really jumped in the second half of 2021. The U.S. recently released fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to stabilize pricing.
My 2021 prediction for the peak Department of Energy (DOE) weekly national average was $2.84. I was almost a dollar short of the actual high in 2021 of $3.626.
For 2022, let’s forecast that diesel fuel prices will continue to rise, but stay below the $4.00 price per gallon. There are a couple of variables that will play into this: the price of crude oil and the severity of the winter. Crude prices averaged $84 a barrel in fall of 2021, up $20 a barrel from prior year. The last time they were that high, diesel was also up but gasoline wasn’t as high as it is today. There could be many factors as to why that is; the supply chain, lack of resources, increased payroll for gas and truck stop employees, etc. There isn’t one thing to blame unfortunately.
With the winter months here, natural gas usage spikes, expectedly. If an issue arises sourcing natural gas, the only fuel that can be substituted is diesel. In the event the U.S. experiences a harsh winter, producing multiple storms, we will see a price hike in diesel. So natural gas becomes prioritized in places like hospitals, schools, and homes, other gas dependent organizations will shift to the purchase of diesel. With that being said, the price will remain high early on in 2022 and I’ll go ahead and predict a peak of $3.91 per gallon.
Now for the fun part. After proving my baseball supremacy, I am going to focus on a different sport for 2022: NBA Basketball. I’m going to predict the Golden State Warriors will return to glory and get their fourth title since 2015. Let’s also go out on a limb and say that Stephen Curry will end up with MVP’s for both the regular season and finals. I’ll sit back and wait for your comments.
To sum everything up, these past two years have been what’s been dubbed a “never ending peak season” making it hard to really predict anything. It’s going to take a while before the supply chain works itself out so remaining flexible, building strong partnerships, and transparency are key to moving forward. We’ll need to continue working together to plan for the now as well as preparing for the future.