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TLF’s Logistics & Transport Barometer shows modest signs of recovery in France

New report provides overview of France’s logistics sector performance across all transport modes

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According to May’s Logistics and Transport Barometer, produced by French logistics trade body TLF, France’s logistics sector faced significant challenges across all modes of transport in 2023, with notable declines in road and rail freight volumes and a continuous downward trend in inland shipping. However, despite these difficulties, early 2024 shows signs of recovery in several areas thanks to an uptake in international trade and an improved economic environment.

How the report was put together

According to authors TLF, the Freight and Logistics Transport Barometer utilises numerous public statistics to analyse trends in the transport sector.

The report’s authors say that the data in the document is primarily sourced from the Service of Data and Statistical Studies (SDES) and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee).

The report also uses data from different timeframes, with some figures covering the period up to May 2024, and others relating to the last quarter of 2023.

Road freight

Decline in volumes

According to the TLF report, road freight ton-kilometres continuously decreased by 3% in 2023 compared to 2022 and by 7.7% year-on-year in the fourth quarter.

Half of the executives surveyed as part of the research reported a lack of demand, with a majority expressing financial fragility. This, it is said, had an impact on employment and other investments.

However, since November, the outlook has somewhat improved, with levels of optimism now back up to the historical average between December and April.

Financial challenges and employment trends

The TLF research nonetheless warns that the financial situation of French companies remains challenging.

Cash flow levels, which are published quarterly, fell in the second half of 2023 and remained disappointing in April. Issues such as lack of demand and difficulty in adjusting prices to match cost increases were said to be significant.

Furthermore, the road freight sector faced an exceptional wave of business failures, with 486 companies entering administration in the first quarter of 2024, a 34% increase from the previous year.

Road freight rates and employment levels

Road freight prices were relatively stable in 2023, with a modest increase of 1.2% year-on-year in Q4.

Meanwhile, employment saw a slight decrease, with 429,400 employees in the sector by the end of 2023, a 0.7% drop from the previous year.

New HGV registrations

When it comes to fleet investments in France, the Barometer states that new HGV registrations increased by 11% in 2023, totaling 50,480. However, this was 11% lower than in 2019.

As for this year, 2024 has seen a 2.4% year-on-year increase in registrations, although March witnessed an 11% year-on-year decline.

Rail freight

Volumes down 15%

Rail freight volumes dropped by 15% in 2023 according to the TLF Barometer. The first quarter was particularly impacted by strikes against pension reform, with subsequent quarters failing to significantly recover.

Moreover, energy-intensive industries also produced less, reducing rail freight volumes. By the fourth quarter, rail ton-kilometres had decreased by 6% year-on-year and by 14% over two years.

Additional challenges and recovery efforts

A landslide in the Maurienne Valley (Savoie) during the summer further hindered performance in the third and fourth quarters. These tracks are expected to reopen this autumn.

When it comes to rail freight rates, prices stabilised after significant increases in early 2023. By the end of 2023, annual growth in rates was 13%.

Sea freight

Decline in port volumes

Volumes handled at major French seaports decreased by 4.6% in 2023, with containers experiencing a significant drop of 13% in France overall and 16% at Haropa Port.

By comparison, the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp saw a smaller decline of 7%.

Container traffic recovery

Container traffic began to recover in the first quarter of 2024, with a 16% year-on-year increase at Haropa Port.

This rebound outpaced those at Rotterdam and Antwerp, but port delays decreased significantly, with an average exit delay of 4.5 days in February 2024.

Freight rates and route adjustments

French maritime freight transport prices fell throughout 2023, following international freight rate declines. By the fourth quarter, prices had dropped 36% year-on-year.

Disruptions in the Red Sea also led to vessels rerouting via the Cape of Good Hope, causing freight rates to spike initially before stabilising.

However, the TLF reports that strong demand and capacity shortages on the Asia-Northern Europe route have led to a recent uptick in rates.

Inland shipping

Continuous decline

The report finds that Inland shipping ton-kilometres in France have been declining for two consecutive years, with a 9% drop in 2022 followed by a 10% decrease in 2023.

Key customers faced challenges such as poor harvests and reduced construction activities. Historic floods in northern France also contributed to the decline.

Air Freight

Gradual recovery in global air freight

Since hitting a low point in January 2023, global air freight has been gradually recovering month by month. Over the entire year, it declined by only 1.9% compared to the previous year, with the first half experiencing an annual decrease and the second half showing an increase. Growth continued in the first quarter of 2024, with a 13.2% year-on-year increase.

French air freight volumes

Volumes handled by French airports were relatively weak in the first half of 2023 but moderately increased in the second half. For the entire year, the decline was limited to 1.7%, following a 6.4% drop in 2022. In the fourth quarter of 2023, activity increased by 2.9% compared to the previous quarter. Annually, however, this still equated to a 6.1% year-on-year decrease.

Positive start to 2024

The first quarter of 2024 began favourably, with cargo ton-kilometres (CTK) increasing by 13.2% year-on-year. March marked the fourth consecutive month of double-digit growth. Capacity offerings, measured in available cargo ton-kilometres, continued to rise in the first quarter, up by 11.4% year-on-year.

The sector benefited from the recovery of international trade, particularly driven by e-commerce. Disruptions in the Red Sea also promoted sea/air transport plans. According to IATA, however, this is not the primary driver of early-year air freight growth.

IATA Forecast

IATA’s latest forecast, published in December, predicts a 4.5% increase in activity for the entire year of 2024 compared to 2023.


Stagnation in 2023

After three years of rapid growth from 2020 to 2022, the volume of warehousing and storage activities contracted throughout 2023, with an overall decline of 3.6%. The decline was more pronounced in the second half of the year, with a 5% year-on-year drop in the fourth quarter.

Demand for logistics space also dropped by 17% in 2023, intensifying in the first quarter of 2024 with a 43% year-on-year decline.

Moreover, investments in logistics real estate halved in 2023. However, since then, there has been a 45% year-on-year increase in the first quarter of 2024, though still below the five-year average.

Price stability and revenue trends

Following significant increases in 2022 and the first quarter of 2023, warehousing service prices stabilised in the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2023. Due to growth carryover from the first quarter of 2023, prices for the entire year increased by 7.8% compared to the previous year. In the fourth quarter, prices rose by 5.7% year-on-year, reflecting increased operating costs.

Demand and investment trends

According to GIE Immostat, demand for warehouses over 5,000 m² in France contracted by 17% in 2023. This decline accelerated to 43% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2024.

Investments in logistics real estate totaled only 2 billion euros in 2023, a sharp decline from previous years. However, the first quarter of 2024 saw a modest rebound with nearly 500 million euros invested.

Construction starts

New logistics surface construction starts fell by 7.9% in 2023, with construction permits decreasing by 2.1%.

Data from the first quarter of 2024 shows no signs of recovery, according to the TLF Barometer.