Freight market declines test brokers in the fourth quarter

TIA’s latest 3PL Market Report shows members have managed to grow business despite challenging conditions.

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A weak freight market in the fourth quarter of 2022 led to quarter-over-quarter declines in shipments, revenue and invoice amount per shipment among Transportation Intermediaries Association’s (TIA) members. However, brokers were still able to maintain their businesses, seeing slight gains from the third quarter of 2022, according to the latest data from the TIA 3PL Market Report, Fourth Quarter 2022.

“The softening freight market affected TIA members during the final quarter of last year,” said TIA president and CEO Anne Reinke. “Freight demand is challenged but the economy remains resilient. So, too, do our members, who stand steadfast in their commitment to providing the best supply chain solutions to customers and the broader industry.”

As seen in the last 3PL Market Report, solid gains in real gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter failed to translate into strength for the part of the economy linked to freight transportation.

TIA’s 3PL Market Report is released on a quarterly basis and uses data collected from 35 participating TIA members to analyze shifts in broker activity, which is largely dominated by the truckload sector. FTR Transportation Intelligence prepared this quarter’s report.

In terms of sector performance, less-than-truckload (LTL) recorded a sharp quarter-over-quarter decline in shipments. Nevertheless, the greatest year-over-year gains ahead of truckload were logged, which saw a marginal year-over-year volume increase, and intermodal (IM), which saw shipments plummet for yet another quarter.

“The fourth quarter performance of the 3PL industry continues to indicate customers rely on logistics providers for a wide range of services,” said Mark Christos, TIA vice chair and chair of the 3PL Market Report. “Despite broader freight market conditions and a decline in transportation cost, shipment volumes remained solid given the overall market conditions. Truckload and LTL volumes consistently outperformed total market volume in 2022, a reflection of the industry’s ability to aggregate capacity, leverage technology and provide reliable service.”

More takeaways

• Net revocations of trucking authority – the number of revocations of operating authority minus the number of reinstatements of authority – during the fourth quarter far exceeded the number of net revocations in the third quarter of 2022. This continues a trend of small carrier failures that began in the fourth quarter of 2021, owing to a combination of declining spot rates and high diesel prices.

• Payroll employment in for-hire trucking soared in 2022. By the end of the fourth quarter, employment reached a record level and was 6% ahead of the pre-pandemic month of February 2020. This trend is likely the result of large carriers absorbing drivers from small carrier failures.

• The combined effects of weaker freight demand and a potentially large backlog of carriers poised to fail has broader consequences for the trucking market. Larger carriers are not likely to continue to absorb drivers displaced by failing small carriers during ongoing market challenges. Therefore, the industry could see a substantial loss of drivers in the coming quarters, which would set up a tight market in 2024.

• Intermodal, which makes up about 13% of all brokerage activity, continues to face headwinds. Slowed consumption and inventory replenishment have been compounded by distortions related to port selection and more attractive rates and capacity in truckload. Further, a greater share of containers is moving through East Coast ports as shippers worry about a work stoppage on the West Coast where dock workers have not had a contract since July 1. That shift puts imports closer to U.S. population centers, which is more favorable for truckload movements.

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