Amid challenges across the entire supply chain industry in 2014, fashion and retail were particularly impacted by a slowdown at West Coast ports, according to the 26th annual State of Logistics Report.
And despite the challenges, 2014 turned out to be a banner year.
The report was released Tuesday by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, along with Penske Logistics, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington. It was written by transportation consultant Rosalyn Wilson of Parsons Corp., spanning many different industries, and was presented by Penske Logistics.
Among the highlights of the report was that the fashion industry was particularly hurt by the congestion and slowdown at U.S. ports. In the fourth quarter of 2014, congestion at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach reached a crisis level, with delays spanning three weeks during October. An entire season of merchandise spent its time in containers anchored off the ports, with the following season’s merchandise arriving right on its heels. This backlog caused many retailers to have to immediately mark down their new arrivals to avoid more inventory buildup.
The study noted that freight volume is expected to continue growing at a moderate rate this year, but as evidenced in 2014, capacity is not expected to keep pace. According to the study, the impact of sustained growth in freight volume on capacity and cost is one of the most pressing issues to monitor this year. The report noted that the freight logistics industry’s problems over the next three years will relate to capacity issues. For 2015, industry experts anticipate bottlenecks across almost every mode of transport.
The report revealed that last year was a banner one for the supply chain industry. Despite mixed economic signals in 2014, the U.S. supply chain industry managed to sustain continued growth, achieving its best year since the Great Recession. The sector grew by 3.6 percent, due to stronger shipment volumes, rather than higher rates, the report noted. According to the study, total U.S. business logistics costs rose to $1.45 trillion in 2014, a 3.1 percent increase from the prior year. However, the growth rate for logistics costs was lower than the U.S. gross domestic product, which resulted in a slight decline in logistics as a percent of GDP from 8.4 percent to 8.3 percent.
The truck driver shortage remains a key concern for the logistics sector with the American Trucking Associations estimating the current shortage ranges from 35,000 to 40,000 drivers. The driver turnover rate was more than 95 percent on an annualized basis.
Costs for the water sector showed an 8.9 percent gain. Inland waterway traffic rebounded due to successful agricultural harvests, higher demand for coal and an expansion of petroleum transportation by barge, according to the study. Shipments through the country’s ports increased, with East Coast ports seeing the largest percentage of gains due to congestion and delays at West Coast ports caused by the port workers’ strike.
The air cargo sector costs declined 1.2 percent as competition from other modes kept rates down, the report noted. In 2014, a record $968 billion of high-value merchandise was moved by air — $443.8 billion in exports and $543 billion in imports, the study said.