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July FTR’s Shippers Conditions Index falls back to 4.3 reading

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The Shippers Conditions Index tracks the changes representing four major conditions in the U.S. full-load freight market. (The Trucker file photo)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — FTR’s Shippers Conditions Index (SCI) for July fell back from June’s 8.8 measure to a still-positive reading of 4.3.

The SCI reflects a mixed freight environment with the industrial sector flat or worse, but consumer spending is still healthy.  Firmer freight rates in July contributed to the decline in the index.

While the July SCI was significantly lower than June, it is more in line with recent history and the near-term outlook, according to Todd Tranausky, vice president of rail and intermodal at FTR.

He said the June index, which was the strongest since early 2016, appears to be an outlier in the current environment.

FTR projects the SCI will remain in the mid-positive range similar to July for the next year.  However, any significant increase in fuel prices due to IMO 2020 and other potential risks to diesel costs could affect that forecast and create a more negative situation for shippers.

“Shippers will continue to benefit from a weaker freight environment through the next few months and into 2020,” Tranausky said. “Rail carload volumes took a step down in recent weeks that should further improve rail service. Rail intermodal and truckload markets will remain tightly matched until at least the middle of 2020, giving some shippers modal choice.”

The September issue of FTR’s Shippers Update, published Sept 6, 2019, details the factors affecting the June Shippers Conditions Index. Also included in the September report is a forewarning from FTR about the possibility for slower growth ahead.

The Shippers Conditions Index tracks the changes representing four major conditions in the U.S. full-load freight market. These conditions are freight demand, freight rates, fleet capacity, and fuel price. The individual metrics are combined into a single index that tracks the market conditions that influence the shippers’ freight transport environment. A positive score represents good, optimistic conditions. A negative score represents bad, pessimistic conditions. The index tells you the industry’s health at a glance. In life, running a fever is an indication of a health problem. It may not tell you exactly what’s wrong, but it alerts you to look deeper. Similarly, a reading well below zero on the FTR Trucking Conditions Index warns you of a problem…and readings high above zero spell opportunity. Readings near zero are consistent with a neutral operating environment. Double digit readings (both up or down) are warning signs for significant operating changes.

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Business

At 0.3% dip, September retail sales drop by largest amount in seven months

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The overall economy grew at a 2% annual rate in the April-June quarter with much of that strength coming from a 4.6% surge in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of economic activity. (© 2019 FOTOSEARCH)

WASHINGTON — Retail sales dropped in September by the largest amount in seven months, possibly signaling that rising trade tensions and turbulent markets are having an impact on consumer spending.

Retail sales fell 0.3% last month following a 0.6% gain in August, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. It was the first decline since a 0.5% drop in February.

Retail sales are important to the trucking industry because trucks carry an estimated 75-80% of the merchandise sold at retail outlets.

Consumer spending was strong in the spring and economists had been counting on continued strength to protect the U.S. economy as it is buffeted by the fallout from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

The spending decline in October, which was unexpected, was influenced by special factors including a big 0.7% decline in sales at gasoline stations, a decline that likely reflected falling gas prices during the month.

The overall economy grew at a 2% annual rate in the April-June quarter with much of that strength coming from a 4.6% surge in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of economic activity.

That spending pace had been expected to slow in the July-September quarter but still remain strong enough to support economic growth near the 2% rate seen in the spring.

But some economists are worried that a slowing global economy and the adverse impact of the U.S.-China trade war could slow overall growth so much that the country could see an increasing risk of a recession ending the current record-long U.S. expansion, which began in June 2009.

“It looks like the trade war has claimed yet another victim, in addition to diminished business confidence and reduced investment spending, … consumers are starting to chicken out,” said Chris Rupkey,  chief financial economist at MUFG in New York.

Many economists said the disappointing retail sales performance would make it more likely that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates in October for a third time this year to buy more insurance against a recession when they meet later this month.

Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said while there were special factors affecting the weak September sales performance, the report contained clear signs that consumption growth is slowing.

He said the report was consistent with his view that the overall economy will continue to slow to a rate of just 1% by the final three months of this year. He said that will prompt the Fed to cut rates again but not until the December meeting.

In addition to the drop in gasoline sales, sales of autos fell 0.9% in September after a solid 1.9% increase in August.

Sales at department stores were down 1.4% while sales at general merchandise stores, which include chain retailers such as Walmart and Target, fell 0.3%.

Sales also dropped at hardware stores, grocery stores and sporting goods stores. Clothing stores, restaurants and health care stores all saw increases.

Sales in a retail control group which focuses on key components that go into computations of GDP were unchanged in September after a 0.3% gain in August.

 

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TA Logistics, sister companies collaborate to offer expanded footprint

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CFI, a sister company of TA Logistics, is one of the nation’s leading truckload carriers with a fleet of over 2,300 trucks and 7,000 trailers providing on-demand as well as dedicated truckload service packages.  (Courtesy: TA LOGISTICS)   

EAGAN, Minn. — Third-party logistics provider TA Logistics Tuesday said it is expanding its service capabilities and solution resources by adding to its portfolio asset availability from Transport America, as well as sister companies CFI, one of the nation’s leading truckload carriers, and CFI Logistics, a provider of integrated supply chain solutions.

The businesses all are operating companies of TFI International Inc.

TA Logistics, founded in 2000, has long provided third-party logistics services for manufacturing, industrial and retail-based business.

By formally incorporating CFI and CFI Logistics into its solution set, the company gains broader capabilities to address customer needs for dedicated truckload capacity, freight brokerage, transportation management and network optimization, warehousing and distribution and supply chain engineering, according to Bill Carter, vice president of logistics for TA Logistics.  Additionally, the company maintains a relationship with and access to TForce, a provider of expedited same-day final mile delivery.

“Customers increasingly want a logistics partner that can operate and deliver value across the broadest footprint of their supply chain,” Carter said. “Establishing more formal relationships and joint sales efforts with our sister companies – and the complementary capabilities they offer – allows us to leverage proven assets and services and significantly bolster our ability to meet more of our customers’ needs.”

Carter said that bringing to market a portfolio of logistics management, same-day final-mile delivery, reliable middle-mile trucking, and over-arching supply chain optimization capabilities is critical for today’s evolving, high-velocity, eCommerce-driven supply chains.

“Customers want to be able to choose a single element of service, a broadly integrated solution, or anything in between,” he said. “Yet the common denominator is to have those multiple capabilities within one organization that can flex and adapt. That’s a valuable differentiator that TFI companies enjoy.”

TForce operates a network of 60 distribution and product staging centers in the U.S., with nearly 4,400 dedicated last-mile delivery trucks, covering 92 percent of communities in the U.S. TForce’s capabilities include expedited last mile service for parcel, package, freight and large-format goods delivered into homes or businesses.

CFI is one of the nation’s leading truckload carriers with a fleet of over 2,300 trucks and 7,000 trailers providing on-demand as well as dedicated truckload service packages. CFI Logistics provides complimentary supply chain planning, optimization and transportation management services to ensure optimal network operations, asset deployment and utilization, and supply chain productivity.

Importantly, Carter said, with CFI’s 35 years of experience and operations in Mexico, inbound cross-border goods from Mexico can now be seamlessly managed and expedited for delivery into TA Logistics distribution centers, where they can then be staged for order fulfillment and final-mile delivery via an owned intra-Mexico LTL network.

Lastly, he said customers benefit from the convenience and efficiency of working with one service provider for multiple needs, and receiving a single, consolidated invoice.

“Time is money for our customers, so ease and efficiency of doing business and not having to manage multiple carriers and invoices becomes a key advantage,” Carter said.

 

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Transportation, safety, funding to be emphasis area for new AASHTO president

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Patrick McKenna, left is the new president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The association’s new vice president is Victoria Sheehan. (McKenna photo courtesy Missouri Department of Transportation: CATHY MORRISON; Sheehan photo courtesy: NEW HAMPSHIRE DOT)

WASHINGTON — The newly-elected president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) says he plans to emphasize the need for surface transportation funding reauthorization and highlight transportation safety as the major focus areas of his one-year term.

“We need to make clear the public benefit of federal surface transportation investment and its impact on the safety, mobility, health, and economic well-being of all Americans,” Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation since 2015, said in a statement reported by the Journal, AASHTO’s official publication.

The expiration of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act in September 2020 means reauthorizing surface transportation funding will occur in a presidential election year: “a tall task, but one that AASHTO and its members must fully embrace [as] state DOTs depend on the funding stability provided by multi-year transportation program,” McKenna said.

Launching a national campaign focused on how “transportation is personal” that explains the many benefits transportation investment provides to all Americans is one tactic McKenna plans to spearhead during his term as AASHTO’s 2019-2020 president as part of the organization’s effort to get surface transportation funding legislation reauthorized.

He also plans to place renewed focus on reducing transportation fatalities, which McKenna described as a “national public health crisis” in his remarks.

“Despite tremendous advances in technology and millions invested in [driver] education, the annual loss of life on our nation’s roads is staggering,” he said, noting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent estimates indicated that 36,700 people died on America’s roads in 2018.

To help reduce those losses, McKenna said AASHTO will continue its role in the Towards Zero Deaths and Vision Zero national coalitions while “facilitating a conversation” with state DOTs and local communities to consider ways to deploy “innovative infrastructure designs and technologies” to more safely accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, and scooter users.

McKenna, who recently completed a one-year term as AASHTO’s 2018-2019 vice president, also served as president of the Mid America Association of Transportation Officials for 2017-2018 and is a member of the executive committee for the National Academy of Science’s Transportation Research Board.

Victoria Sheehan will be AASHTO’s vice president in 2019-2020.

Sheehan commissioner of the New Hampshire DOT in 2015 after a 10-year career in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s highway division, where she served in a number of roles including accelerated bridge program manager, bridge program consultant contracts administrator, and finally as manager of strategic planning and highway performance.

Sheehan is originally from Northern Ireland.

She is only the second woman to serve as vice president in the association’s 105-year history.

 

 

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