Logistics Industry Isn’t Keeping Up with Growth of U.S. Economy, Report Says

By Supply Chain Brain

Total U.S. business logistics costs in 2013 rose to $1.39tr, a 2.3 percent increase from the previous year, according to the 25th Annual “State of Logistics Report” released by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals and presented by Penske Logistics, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Logistics as a percent of U.S. gross domestic product declined for the second year in a row, indicating that the logistics sector is not keeping pace with the growth in the overall economy.

The report, written by transportation consultant Rosalyn Wilson of Delcan, a Parsons company specializing in transportation, has tracked and measured all costs associated with moving freight through the U.S. supply chain since 1988. This year’s report presents an overview of the economy during the past year, the logistics industry’s key trends, and the total U.S. logistics costs for 2013. The recovery from the Great Recession has been protracted, and economic performance has been weak. The research examines the economic vitality as well as challenges faced by each sector, and concludes with a brief overview of industry indicators for the beginning of 2014 and thoughts about performance for the remainder of the year. The supply chain management benchmark report is available from the CSCMP website.

This year’s report reveals that the transportation sector grew only 2.0 percent, with all modes experiencing modest gains in revenue. Despite the weak revenue picture, tonnage was up due to heavier average loads per shipment. The truck driver shortage is a top concern for most industry executives as the trucking sector faced significant capacity issues in 2013. The lack of drivers to fill seats in existing equipment, decline in productivity of existing drivers due to Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations, and coupled with an uptick in trucking company bankruptcies in 2013 contributed to constricting truck capacity as volume picked up. Railroad sector costs grew 3.6 percent as intermodal gained market share in response to the truck capacity shortage. Rates have not responded to the tight industry capacity, and have not grown as fast as volume.

The air cargo sector made no gains in 2013 as both domestic and international sectors remained unchanged from the prior year. Compared to 2012, the water sector’s performance improved, rising 4.5 percent. Ocean carriers continue to expand available space as larger containers ships are delivered, and new alliances and operational controls are improving their balance sheets. The inland waterway system was plagued with weather-related issues ranging from waterways thawing later than usual to floods and droughts. The big news for this sector and the nation’s infrastructure is the enactment of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). This legislation is an example of bipartisan support for a much-needed program to restore the nation’s waterways so that they can play a vital role in the intermodal freight system.

Inventory-carrying costs were held down because of falling interest rates, which dropped 22.6 percent from 2012. The other components of carrying costs—warehousing, taxes, depreciation, insurance and obsolescence—were up due to the 3 percent gain in inventories.