Photo: Bateloupreaut, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Challenges aplenty: key findings from France’s latest barometer of freight transport and logistics

The latest version of the Barometer of Freight Transport and Logistics, produced by TLF, the Union of Transport and Logistics Companies of France, has just been released.

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The findings from the report underscore the numerous challenges faced by the French logistics industry, from road freight contraction to rail disruptions, a declining inland shipping sector, and a significant slowdown in storage and warehousing activities.

The figures in the report come from various government institutions, although there are variations in how up-to-date some of the data is.

Road Freight: contraction continues

The road freight sector in France, as anticipated by the business climate throughout the year, has been struggling. In the 2nd quarter of 2023, the French fleet reported a significant 4.7% decrease in volumes compared to the previous year.

Relative to the previous quarter, the sector saw a 6.4% drop, with a consequential reduction in hiring as road freight transport companies reduced their workforce, leading to a loss of 4,300 employees in the 2nd quarter alone (a 1% decline).

Bankruptcies within the sector also increased by 20% year-on-year. Unfortunately, the situation is not expected to improve by the end of this year, says the report, posing ongoing challenges for the road freight industry.

Rail Freight: strikes and landslides hamper recovery

Rail freight transport faced severe disruptions in the 1st quarter, primarily due to strikes against retirement reforms.

These strikes led to numerous cancellations and delays in the freight segment as efforts were made to prioritize passenger trains. Although there was a modest recovery of 11% in the 2nd quarter compared to the previous quarter, rail freight still remains 18% lower than the previous year.

The landslide incident in Maurienne on August 27 further complicated matters, casting a shadow over the prospects for the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Inland shipping: a prolonged decline

Inland shipping, another vital part of the French logistics landscape, has been experiencing a prolonged downward trend for the past year and a half.

This sector has already lost a quarter of its volumes when compared to the pre-pandemic era.

In the first half of 2023, the drop in activity reached 14% year-on-year, with prices remaining rather stable, after significant increases last year.

Storage & Warehousing: a significant slowdown

After three years of sustained growth from 2020 to 2022, logistics activity came to a halt in 2023. The second and third quarters saw a decline, marking three consecutive quarters of contraction. While there was a -1.7% erosion over the year, prices in the sector increased by 5.8% over the same period, driving turnover up by 5.1%.

On the real estate side of logistics, take-up of warehouses fell by a considerable 24% during the first nine months of the year when compared to the same period in the previous year.

Investments in this sector also dropped by a staggering 74% in the first half, indicating a notable slowdown in the logistics industry’s growth.

Sea Freight: rates remain low amid global sluggishness

In the world of sea freight, the intersection of global demand and shipping company overcapacity has kept freight rates at relatively low levels.

Notably, rates on the Asia – Northern Europe route dipped below $1,000, reflecting the ongoing challenges in the industry. To address this, there was a notable increase in stopover cancellations from mid-September to mid-October, accounting for 15% of cancellations.

However, these cancellations became less frequent, reducing to 6% from mid-October to mid-November.

The reliability of maritime transport, which had shown improvements throughout 2022, hit a plateau this summer. This reliability is measured by assessing the share of deadlines met and the average number of days shipments are delayed.

Notably, the current levels are now approaching those seen before the onset of the health crisis, indicating a stabilization in maritime transport performance.

In the 2nd quarter, French maritime ports experienced a rebound after a challenging 1st quarter marked by strikes against pension reforms.

The recovery was primarily attributed to the resumption of imports, especially in the hydrocarbons and vehicle trade sectors. However, the containerized activity remained weak, with a relative stability of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in the 2nd quarter compared to the 1st, showing only a minimal 0.7% decrease.

Year-on-year, there was a more substantial drop of 12.7%. Delays at ports, which had significantly lengthened during the strikes in the 1st quarter, quickly returned to normal levels, signifying a return to operational consistency.

These findings shed light on the challenges faced by the sea freight industry, marked by persistently low rates, shifting cancellation patterns, and the stabilization of reliability levels. Additionally, they highlight the resilience of French maritime ports, which are gradually recovering despite hurdles encountered earlier this year.

Air Freight: gradual recovery and falling prices

In the realm of air freight, a sector that faced a sharp decline in 2022, there are promising signs of a slow but steady recovery. In August, global air freight volumes demonstrated a noteworthy increase over the past year, marking a significant turnaround after 19 consecutive months of negative developments.

The European market, however, showcased a different picture, with volumes in August 2019 remaining on par with those of August 2022. This unusual equilibrium in the European market is attributed to the increasing carrying capacities, mirroring the resurgence in passenger air traffic. However, this supply and demand imbalance contributed to a decline in prices.

Turning our attention to air freight activity at French airports, the sector remained stable for three consecutive quarters. In terms of annual variation, growth remains positive, registering an impressive 10% increase. This growth can be attributed to an exceptionally challenging first half of 2022, followed by a robust recovery in the subsequent six months.

Notably, in the 2nd quarter of 2023, French air freight prices experienced a substantial decline, plummeting by 26% year-on-year, raising concerns over the pricing dynamics within the sector.

These findings reflect a resilient global air freight sector, with signs of improvement, especially following a challenging year in 2022. While volumes are gradually rebounding, price drops in the French air freight industry add complexity to the overall picture, underscoring the sector’s ongoing journey toward stability and recovery.

Photo: Bateloupreaut, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons