Looking at logistics in 2013

Taking a quick look at what has happened in the logistics world this year...so far.

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According to my calendar, today is September 3. Um, how did that happen? For those who think time does not fly, you must get more time off than I do, but having returned to my desk from vacation today I really cannot complain, I guess.

Given that we are nearing the end of the third quarter of 2013, now seems as good of a time as any to see how things are shaping up (or not) as we approach the final quarter pole of the year.

Unlike a year ago at this time, one thing we are not doing is keeping a watchful eye on the Presidential Election, which is a good thing because we know that not much happens in terms of new legislation in an election year. Well, given the pace at which this edition of Congress “gets things done,” that may not actually apply.

But that does not mean that nothing has been happening in DC either. For example, the long-awaited (and dreaded by many) motor carrier Hours-of-Service regulations became a reality on July 1. Given that it has been a very short time since they kicked in, it is fair to say the jury is still out on whether they are as negative as initially feared by many supply chain and transportation stakeholders or if this was all an overreaction to a degree. It is fair to say it is still too early to tell.

Another happening in the Beltway was the departure of Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood earlier this summer. During his time at the post LaHood was highly focused on safety-related initiatives like Distracted Driving, which is clearly important to say the least but he was also highly active on the freight transportation front through things like the establishment of the Freight Policy Council, whose objective is to focus on improving the condition and performance of the national freight network to better ensure the ability of the U.S. to compete in the global economy, as well as the roll out of the first of its kind national standards to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks and buses, and CSA, which stands for “Compliance, Safety, Accountability,” which was designed to weed out as many as 5 percent—of 150,000 of the nation’s 3 million or so long-haul truck drivers that the federal government believes are involved in an disproportionately high number of truck accidents and fatalities. LaHood also was involved in the current federal transportation bill, MAP-21, during his time at the DOT helm.

His replacement, Anthony Foxx, has a full plate in front of him as DOT chief, but by most accounts it seems LaHood left things in decent shape overall. It is far too early to critique Foxx at this point, but that will change in the coming months for certain.

Looking at the economy on a year-to-date basis, the theme “more of the same” could ring true on some levels. Consumer spending is somewhat stagnant but showing some signs of improvement, but it is clear there has not been any type of meaningful uptick in demand to raise the flat tide of economic growth either.

Last week’s second quarter 2.5 percent GDP growth announcement revision from a previously estimated 1.7 percent looks to be good news as is the decline in jobless claims, too.  Yes, housing starts and auto sales are encouraging, but they need to be sustained for a prolonged period.

Many industry experts maintain that until there is further evidence of growth—enough at least to get GDP consistently higher than 3 percent or more to start—we are likely to remain in this current economic environment replete with stops and starts, or “green shoots.”

Another thing worth a watchful eye is the tenuous situation in Syria and what that could mean for energy prices, a very sore spot for shippers, especially when they are on the up and up. Oil barrel prices are in the $110 range at the moment but could go higher depending on what happens in the short term.

That makes it no surprise that shippers and carriers continue to get serious about natural gas fleets as a viable and potential alternative to fossil fuels without as much painful pricing pressure, too. While the progress is relatively slow, it is still being made and will continue to be a bigger story over time.

This is a very quick sampling of some of the things that are happening in the markets we cover and serve. There are more, of course, including: modal trade downs (they are back…); the ongoing strength of intermodal, especially on the domestic side; an ocean carrier market trying to regain the semblance of profitability;  a domestic manufacturing environment, which appears to be regaining its bearings, and the continued changes in supply chain and logistics operations being brought about by e-commerce.

Clearly, there is a lot going on and a lot of news to chase, too. Please be sure to visit LM on this site and in print to get your news fix as often as possible and have a great rest of 2013.

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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