TIA’s Q1 3PL market report shows annual declines across the board

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · May 28, 2020

The First Quarter 2020 TIA 3PL Market Report, which was recently issued by the Arlington, Va.-based Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA), presented a dire outlook for what TIA Chief Economist Noel Perry labeled “a market sliding towards recession, a conventional recession we thought—probably a mild recession.”

TIA said that this report, which represents more than 1.3 million shipments and over $2.6 billion in total revenue for the first quarter, is based on monthly data submission and surveys of TIA members providing current operating data and also answering questions on business conditions affecting the 3PL sector. It also is comprised of rolling eight-quarter trends and fuel price comparisons, which allow 3PLs and industry observers to see how the industry is performing and also to compare business relative to similar sized companies. And it also is comprised of detailed 3PL activities by transportation mode and measures comparative volume, revenue, margin, and margin percentages on a quarterly and annual basis.

TIA’s findings all showed negative annual declines for the first quarter, including:

total shipments, down 3.4% to 1,326,180;

total revenue, down 8.5% to $2,599,511;

invoice amount/shipment, down 5.3% to $1,960; and

gross margin %, down 170 basis points to 15.8%

TIA officials observed that the drop in margin percent is something that has not previously occurred on the approach to recession.

In an interview TIA President and CEO Bob Voltmann explained that, when looking at the report’s data for the quarter, the market was in gradual decline in January and February, in advance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Rates were already declining [in January and February], and the economy was already beginning to falter,” he said. “Then it had a spurt where there was a surge of freight—kind of like ‘Cash for Clunkers”—with freight moving to market, as people panic-bought, and then that spigot got turned off. We went from sliding into a gradual recession into a depression.”

As for the second quarter, Voltmann did not pull any punches in noting that quarterly data is likely to be what he called horrific, leaving the window open for what the third and fourth quarters will look like.

May 28, 2020