The freight markets have reentered “chaos is business as usual” territory. There has been very little change to any of the major indices this week as the Outbound Tender Volume and Reject Indices have both moved horizontally for two weeks now. Since the winter blizzard disruption, tender volumes took a leg up and have remained elevated since. The natural peak in tender volumes (and rejections) seems to be in place, but the spring freight season is upon us.
Year-over-year comparisons are becoming increasingly more difficult given the 30% surge in volumes on the back of consumer panic buying and hoarding at the beginning of the pandemic. For this reason, two-year comparisons glean more meaningful insights throughout the rest of 1H21.
After adjusting for rejected tenders, OTVI is up ~25% over 2019 and up ~13% over last year. The lasting impact of the winter storms is being felt in the reefer market. The power outages meant many goods were left without a way to manage their environment, putting many perishables and other goods at risk for spoilage or damage. Demand for reefer trailers exploded in Texas, with the Reefer Outbound Tender Volume Index for the state increasing over 50% in a 10-day stretch, potentially leaving a vacuum in other parts of the country.
Over the past three months, growth in outbound reefer tender volumes (ROTVI.USA) has outpaced dry van growth, with the disparity accelerating during the storms. As a result of the imbalance, major produce regions like California, North Carolina and Florida have all seen severe reefer capacity shortages over the past two weeks.
The significant produce harvests typically don’t occur until April through June, so it’s likely that when domestic produce begins to move in earnest, it could set up for a historic year for reefer carriers.
While it is hard to see how freight demand gets much better from here, it appears distinctly possible. President Biden signed the newest round of fiscal stimulus this week and $1,400 checks will be hitting American pockets as early as next week. Inventories remain decimated, the housing market is on fire, the industrial economy is recovering and the reopening of the economy is inching closer with every passing day. The vaccination efforts are extremely promising — 1-in-4 adult Americans has received at least one dose.
On a positive note, eight of the 15 major freight markets that we monitor as a broad, representative benchmark were positive on a week-over-week basis. This ratio was flat compared to last week and weakened modestly from the stronger levels it has become accustomed to in recent months as the freight market rallies. The markets with the largest gains this week in OTVI.USA were Fresno, California (14.83%), Seattle (9.06%), and Miami (8.24%). The markets with the largest declines this week in OTVI.USA were Laredo, Texas (-4.79%), Newark, New Jersey (-4.45%) and Memphis, Tennessee (-3.54%).
Tender rejections hover near peak
The Outbound Tender Reject Index (OTRI) declined marginally this week to 26.5%. OTRI has ranged up toward 30% four times over the past year, but never quite touched the handle. The natural ceiling for tender rejections appears to be near that level, and this is evidenced by surging spot rates.
From a geographic standpoint, there is simply not much to report this week. Markets around population centers on the West Coast and in the Northeast experienced very little change in tender rejections this week, while southern regions saw tightening capacity.
The market is unlikely to see any material loosening of capacity through the middle of the year. There could be some downward pressure on tender rejections as routing guides are recalibrated and contract rates are revised upward toward spot, but capacity will remain difficult to source.
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