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The US-China trade war’s effects on truckload supply and demand in major west coast and east coast port markets


Chart of the Week: Outbound Tender Reject Index (Los Angeles, CA) vs. Outbound Tender Reject Index (Savannah, GA) (SONAR: OTRI.LAX, OTRI.SAV)

Load volumes from the major port cities of Los Angeles and Savannah were heavily influenced by inbound containers this past year. (IMAGE: SONAR OTVI.LAX, SAV, OTRI.LAX, SAV )

The US-China trade war has had a massive impact on supply and demand within the US truckload market. Companies scrambling to beat the deadline of the proposed tariff increases on Chinese-made goods pushed major ocean container volumes into the ports, and left US warehouses packed full of imported goods that were not meant to ship until after Chinese New Year in 2019. As inventories grew, many US Importers ran out of available warehouse space, so they were left looking for options close-by US ocean ports to temporarily store their cargo while they waited for the 2019 retail season to kick off. This all happened simultaneously with what was already set to be a record year in peak season volumes as US retailers prepared to meet holiday-driven demand. So, the impact on the truckload market was immediate, and  truckload carriers were quick to respond by repositioning themselves to major US port markets where volumes have remained elevated ever since.

One of the best ways to visualize these tariff-driven effects on the truckload market is to compare the amount of outbound tender volumes with the amount of outbound tender rejections in Los Angeles, CA and Savannah, GA, which are two major port-neighboring truckload markets. If we look closely at these two indicators of truckload supply and demand using SONAR, we will be able to visualize how many contracted, outbound loads were being rejected by truckload carriers relative to the number of available loads during this time frame. Thus, providing us with a clear picture of the tariff-driven increases in volume, and their impacts on the truckload capacity within these port-neighboring markets.

Looking closely at our chart of the week, we see that heading into peak season (June/July 2018) outbound tender rejections in Los Angeles, CA (OTRI.LAX) and outbound tender rejections in Savannah, GA (OTRI.SAV), were high relative to outbound tender volumes in those same markets (OTVI.LAX, OTVI.SAV).  This shows us that prior to the influx of expected peak season container volumes along with tariff-driven container volumes, that the supply of available truckload capacity in these markets was low relative to the amount outbound volumes (demand).

Then, as additional tariff increases were announced and expected peak season volumes started materializing into truckload demand within these markets, we see that tender rejections (OTRI.LAX and OTRI.SAV) both started to decline, with the only increases coming as the last wave of tariff-driven volumes arrived in November and December of 2018. This decline in tender rejections has continued through today, with a total decline of -82% YOY in both markets.

As outbound tender rejections were in a massive decline during this time-frame, outbound volumes were steadily increasing as retailers pushed demand into the market for the holiday season in 2018, and volumes have remained elevated from the pre-tariff volumes finally hitting the market. Today, OTVI.LAX sits at a 75% increase YOY, and OTVI.SAV sits at a 31% increase YOY.

As has been reported on by Zach Strickland in the past chart of the week, these elevated volumes in Q4 of 2018 have been highly correlated with an increase in national spot rates (DATVF.VNU) and an increase new Class 8 truck orders (ORDERS.CL8). As our chart of the week shows, it would seem that these new trucks have added a great deal of new capacity in the market, which has only helped to further the spread between the elevated OTVIs and the OTRIs for these respective markets.

About Indices presented in this article

(SONAR: OTVI.LAX, SAV) Outbound Tender Volume Index – Los Angeles , Savannah – Index of contracted freight volumes where all U.S. markets add up to the national base value of 10,000 on March 1, 2018.

Outbound Tender Rejection Index – Los Angeles, Savannah – Rate of carrier rejections of electronically tendered load orders based on the origin or outbound market. i.e. If carriers reject 1 out of 10 load tenders, the rejection rate is 10%.

About Chart of the Week

The FreightWaves Chart of the Week is a chart selection from SONAR that provides an interesting data point to describe the state of the freight markets. A chart is chosen from thousands of potential charts on SONAR to help participants visualize the freight market in real-time. Each week the Sultan of SONAR will post a chart, along with commentary live on the front-page. After that, the Chart of the Week will be archived on for future reference.

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Henry Byers

Henry is the head of ocean intelligence at FreightWaves. He has spent most of his career working for domestic and international 3PLs right here in the heart of Freight Alley, in Chattanooga, TN. His experience includes leadership roles within multiple 3PLs that each possessed different operating models in the domestic and international markets. Working within these varying 3PL models allowed him to see and understand the strengths and pitfalls of each, and where there is still opportunity for improvement within each industry. Most recently, he spent over 3 ½ years in international freight forwarding where he held leadership roles in business development, pricing, procurement, and analytics. During this time, he focused intently on researching, analyzing, and reporting on the air and ocean freight markets, which included him traveling abroad to meet and negotiate with ocean carriers and foreign partners. His unique experience within both the domestic and international freight markets provides him with a comprehensive understanding of how the data made available in SONAR can best be utilized by shippers, carriers, and 3PLs/4PLs to help navigate the complexities of global and domestic supply chains.