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Logistics and Retail Updates

This series of updates aims to bring relevant government and industry statistics to life. As part of our assignments, we often help clients source both internal and external data, and then use it to drive logistics modelling, benchmarking, budgeting ...and action plans! To find out how we can help you by ringing 01295 758875 or contact us.

Are things picking up?

5 March 2024

Spot rates depend on demand, capacity / availability, and the costs of providing a service. In this post I’m using traffic levels as a proxy for a demand indicator. It tells us what we already know: peak didn’t really happen as hoped and that at its mid-point January was dire, although after that things seem to have started picking up.

What are we seeing on the graph. The light blue solid line shows the HGV traffic level from the DfT index published monthly. The darker blue dotted line shows the TEG index for UK spot rates based on the average ppm paid on Transport Exchange Group’s haulage exchange platform.

Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - haulage TEG - HGV traffic levels - logistics statistics

The graph runs from January 2019 which is when the TEG indices started, with the traffic index starting in March 2020 - the DfT HGV traffic index is shown on the LH axis and the TEG haulage index on the RH axis. There is by no means an exact correlation, but I last looked at this back in September 2022 and haven’t had to change the scales on the two y-axes at all.

In mid-January this year, the traffic level for HGVs was the lowest it had been apart from lockdowns since DfT started publishing these figures. By February it had risen back to 100 – back to where it started in 2020. We don’t yet know the traffic figure for March, but the TEG haulage index was the largest it’s ever been for that month of the year.

So are things picking up? Lyall Cresswell, CEO of Transport Exchange Group, commented recently on a Linkedin post: “…we saw completed transactions on the Transport Exchange Group platform jump by over 15% year on year compared to last February, albeit there was the extra day because of the Leap Year. January also saw a double digit increase.”

And there’s other evidence. The ONS carries out a regular survey, the Business insights and impact on the UK economy, where it asks a variety of questions looking at the impact of challenges facing the economy and other events on UK businesses. The BICS questions and topics are regularly reviewed, and questions added, removed, or amended to reflect changing circumstances.

A month ago, when asked about the main concern in the next month, the largest category for Transport & Storage respondents (and for all businesses combined) was falling demand, but with a third of T&S companies expressing no concerns at all. This month, those T&S companies with no concerns dropped to just over a quarter of respondents, but those concerned about falling demand had halved to less than 1 in 12, although demand was still the largest single concern across all businesses.

What about when the economy picks up?

27 March 2024

The number of haulage and logistics companies reported in the trade press as going into administration recently has been striking. Insolvency notices per month are at a five-year high and it may be a ten-year high as I’ve only looked at 2019 onwards.

Everyone in logistics will remember reading, at the end of last year, about 463 hauliers entering insolvency and the increase that it represented over two years previously. Those figures were based on Freedom of Information data that had been procured by accountants Price Bailey.

It’s best to regard my graph as an index made from the number of insolvency notices month-by-month using the search term ‘road freight’. There are other forms of insolvency that don’t get reported individually in the press, such as smaller companies going into voluntary liquidation – giving up because of today’s difficult trading environment.

While the demise of some companies results in only one notice, others can result in two or three. I’ve used a combination count of notices for Administration, Creditors' voluntary liquidation, Liquidation by the Court and Members' voluntary liquidation. This method will definitely overstate the number of companies that have become insolvent, but the important thing is that the counting method is as consistent as possible across the period. The figures for the graph come from The Gazette, which is based on three editions: London, Edinburgh and Belfast - so my graph is for the whole UK.

Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - haulage - road freight - insolvency - logistics statistics

The blue line on the graph is the month-by-month combination count and is measured against the LH Axis. The red line is a moving annual total of those monthly counts and is measured against the RH Axis. The dotted element right at the end of the graph for each line is because we haven’t quite reached the end of March yet – it can only go up.

What is interesting to me is that, while there was a very understandable increase in insolvencies at the start of the pandemic, the next big peak didn’t occur until June 2021 when we entered the period of CEO of Logistics UK’s David Wells’ immortal words: “Instead of just-in-time replenishment it is ‘just when I’ve got a driver’ replenishment.”.

In advance of creating the graph I had made myself a little list of dates that might affect the rate of insolvencies:

  • Covid - first lockdown legally in force 26 March 2020
  • Furlough ended 30 Sept 2021
  • Interest rates started to rise 15 Dec 2021
  • Ukraine war started 24 Feb 2022
  • Truss mini-budget 23 Sept 2022
  • CPI peaked Oct 2022

Other than the start of Covid, I didn’t need my list – after June 2021 the increase in insolvencies has become seemingly inexorable. This could be construed not to matter right now, when volumes are low and it’s actually beneficial for the haulage market not to be over-saturated. It will matter a great deal as and when the economy eventually picks up again.

Green shoots or Red Sea response?

4 March 2024

The new TEG indices are out and, as usual, have an interesting story to tell. OK, to be straight, the index for Courier spot prices isn’t surprising – it’s reduced since January and is deflationary against last year, as it has been for a few months, although still more than 21% higher than it was five years ago.

But the Haulage index for spot rates is a different story. It’s increased since January and become inflationary. The Bank of England may not like it – those spot rates haven’t just stopped being deflationary, they’ve flipped straight through to +4.0% year on year inflation – out of the bank’s KPI target band.

So what’s what on the two graphs? The left one shows the TEG index for haulage, and the right hand one the courier index. These indices are based on the average ppm for spot rates organised via the two Transport Exchange Group platforms. The x-axis shows January through to December, and the y-axis the index values, starting at 100 in January 2019.

On each graph, each line represents a year and are in rainbow sequence (aah!):

  • Orange is 2019 = Old normal
  • Yellow is 2020 = Covid & lockdowns
  • Green is 2021 = Staycations, no drivers etc
  • Blue is 2022 = Ukraine impact on fuel & energy
  • Purple is 2023 = Cost of living/doing business continues
  • Pink is 2024 = Red Sea + who knows?

Continued below graphic...

Aricia Update - TEG - haulage - retail sales - Red Sea - logistics statistics

What’s happened to the TEG haulage index?

Yes, diesel’s started to go up again, but not by much and haulage spot rates have generally seemed remarkably immune. There doesn’t seem to be a driver shortage now although, again, the job ads data from Adzuna via ONS for logistics staff also started to move up again slightly. The government announced the National Living Wage increase of nearly 10% back in November, which will have got some people thinking.

Although things remain remarkably tough out there, the rise may be partly to do with excess capacity being taken out of the market – some contributions to Motor Transport’s Vox Pop said as much.

I believe it is also affecting business customers' perception (in a good way for logistics providers) as they see various hauliers go into administration and don’t want their own supply chains impacted for the sake of a few extra pounds.

There may well be other factors. Is it green shoots? We know that both the GfK consumer confidence index and IoD business confidence index were up in January, although then down again in February. Retail sales gave a surprising upswing in January, but we don’t yet know the comparison figures for February. Or is it urgent Red Sea replenishment? Surprise sales combined with a longer shipping time, meaning that by the time the goods arrive they create urgent volume for a sector that isn’t stockpiling to the extent that it was last year?

I’m interested in your thoughts!

Automation - what & when?

26 February 2024

I’m trying to get a handle on the impact of automation going forward including answering the following: What proportion of UK warehouses are currently automated? Or, alternatively, to what extent is the UK typical of the global warehouse estate with respect to automation?

Back in 2019, the Office for National Statistics published a report headed Which occupations are at highest risk of being automated? which had accompanying data by Standard Occupational Classification for the probability of jobs being automated in the future – it’s where the graphic I’ve used came from. When ‘the future’ occurs isn’t defined, although the fact that 62% of LGV drivers’ jobs are seen as being at risk probably gives some idea.

Continued below graphic...

Aricia Update - ONS - automation - AI - warehouses - logistics statistics

There are various types of automation:
a) The physical automation of tasks such as in the warehouse (c63% of elementary storage occupations are at high risk of being automated)
b) The automation of clerical functions by relatively simple computer programs
c) The use of artificial intelligence to take more complex decisions on the basis of machine learning

And there will be others. The divide between the last two categories is less clear cut when you’re trying to understand impact on staffing - for instance what proportion of the c60% of stock controllers whose jobs are at risk is down to b) or to c), and indeed some will be down to a). It’s also not clear whether the loss of warehouse managers & directors as shown in the graphic (35% at high risk of being automated) is as a result of loss of staff to manage due to a) or whether more is down to, say, c).

A more recent report (2021) on analysis carried out by PwC, commissioned by the government, which is specifically about AI, indicates that over 500K jobs in transport & logistics will be removed by AI over the next 20 years. This includes loss of drivers’ jobs as a result of the development of driverless vehicles, with that loss being towards the end of the 2030s rather than in the 2020s.

As well as identifying when ‘the future’ is, it is also important to know how far are we through that journey already. Based on its latest update (2022), ChatGPT couldn’t help me with the question: What proportion of UK warehouses are currently automated? So I had to do my own research.

A piece on the Business Wire website, published in the same year as the PwC report (and, in this case, specifically about the physical side of warehouse automation), when talking about the global market said “More than 80 percent of the warehouses today have no automation of whatsoever. However, since last decade ~15 percent of the warehouses are being mechanized, while only 5 percent are using sophisticated automation equipment and solutions.” But to what extent is the UK typical of the global warehouse economy?

I’m still looking for an answer if anyone can help me: What proportion of UK warehouses are currently automated? Or, alternatively, to what extent is the UK typical of the global warehouse estate with respect to automation?

Post-Xmas Blues

3 February 2024

So we’re nearly out of the post-Xmas blues period - this year I must have missed the usual annual adverts from law firms about the third Monday in January being a popular time to consider divorce! And things are looking up – the GfK consumer confidence index rose in January, albeit still in negative territory, and the Bank of England has held interest rates despite the Consumer Price Index going up very slightly in December.

If you’re a haulier, we’re in a period of deflation, and January / February never look too good, but that’s part of the annual cycle. At the lighter end of the market, it’s still difficult to tell exactly where rates are going.

What the graph shows are two indices for courier work. The first is the SPPI* for Freight Transport by Road and for Other Postal and Courier Services (‘Other’ meaning that it’s not Postal Services Under Universal Service Obligation – mainly Royal Mail). This is shown as the solid orange line, rebased so it starts at the same level as the TEG, 100 for Q1 2019.

The other deep yellow dotted line shows the TEG price index for courier work, published monthly by the Transport Exchange Group, representing movement in ppm for spot rates paid by users for transport provided via its freight exchange platforms.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - SPPI - TEG - Courier rates - inflation - deflation - logistics statistics

I’ve also marked in the various periods of lockdown on the graph and, of course, pretty much coinciding with the end of the last period of minimum restrictions, the price of fuel rocketed as the Ukraine crisis began.

The SPPI for courier work is still showing inflation of 5.7%, and that’s despite the price of diesel going down over the same period. The SPPI moves more smoothly than TEG – partly because it includes more contractual deals and partly because being quarterly irons out the bumps – but, being quarterly, it’s always slightly behind the times, hence not getting to the ‘end’ of the graph. In contrast, the TEG index which represents spot rates, and which is available very soon after the month end, has been deflationary since July, although it should be noted that the apparently enormous drop in January is mainly seasonal.

It will be very interesting to see where things go next.

*The SPPI, from the ONS, is a series of quarterly indices – it stands for Services Producer Price Index and is like the CPI for consumer inflation, but measures the changes in prices paid for services from UK businesses, including logistics.

Price movement

17 January 2024

The news from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier today was that the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 4.0% in the 12 months to December 2023, up from 3.9% in November, and the first time the rate has increased since February 2023. Not the best news, particularly given the uncertainty of the Red Sea situation, for those who were hoping that the Bank of England will reduce the interest rate at the start of February this year.

The Services Producer Price Index (SPPI) is also out today and the graph shows the SPPI* for All Services at aggregate level (blue - general inflation for business services) and the indices for Freight Transport by Road (bright pink) and Warehousing & Storage (green). The SPPI is a quarterly index, so the latest point on the graph is for Q4 2023.

The graph below shows a six-year period, which gives us two years of pre-Covid, ie relatively normal, although inflation in logistics had already started to pick up because of Brexit related issues – see the second to last post, (posted back in July 2019), much further down on this page!

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - SPPI - Road Freight - Warehousing - inflation - logistics statistics

What is interesting (to me at any rate!) is that while road freight has been showing annual deflation for a couple of quarters now, and warehousing prices have shown the first signs of a dip at the end of 2023, the aggregate index representing most services just carries on up - it was never as steep as the price rises in logistics in 2022 because many service businesses are of a different nature to freight and warehousing, but at 3.7% annual inflation the cost of general services is still rising at about double the rate that’s conducive to consumer prices stabilising.

*The Services Producer Price Index is a bit like the CPI - it shows the increase in prices and rates paid, but for services provided by businesses. It provides a measure of inflation for the UK service sector with individual price indices, such as Freight Transport by Road, aggregated to create an all-services industry index, with the exception of the financial and insurance services sector.

Each individual index in itself is an aggregate, For example the freight by road index includes a wide variety of types of road transport: dry bulk, refrigerated, containers, live haul, petrol, parcels… intended to represent the sector as a whole. Prices are obtained via surveys by the ONS from a variety of operators for like-for-like services at the normal market price for period in question.

Peak mania

8 January 2024

Peak mania doesn't do any of us any good. Our pockets, waistlines, or efficiency.

The supermarkets have had their busiest Christmas since 2019 according to Kantar, a research company specialising in retail, as reported by the BBC. And the TEG road transport indices for December, just out, support this picture of busyness, with haulage rates up by just over 4% compared with November. But after peak, Black Friday, Christmas and all sorts of other reasons to spend, we’re now entering the quieter period of the year.

So what’s my little chart showing us? The TEG road transport price indices are based on the pence per mile paid for spot rates through the Transport Exchange Group’s two platforms: haulage and courier. Each of the indices starts at 100 in January 2019 and has flexed up and down each month over the past five years. I have show the indices year by year so the annual pattern can clearly be seen.

Continued below chart...

Aricia Update - TEG - Haulage - Courier - spot rates - peak impact - logistics statistics

Each year is separately ‘conditionally formatted’ using Excel's colour gradient with the deepest blue representing the lowest value for that index for that year, generally (although not always) February ...and the strongest red representing the maximum value, which is generally (although not always) December.

Yes, there will be inflationary impact as each year progresses, but I don't think this distorts the bigger picture, which is that road transport companies are (not all, but generally) very dependent on the retail (so-called) 'golden quarter' to make money across the whole year.

In the late autumn and into peak, resources are stretched with users having to pay higher rates to get the job done. And then in the early spring, resources are under-utilised and transport companies offer low rates to chase whatever jobs are around. If only the year was flatter, allowing more efficiency, more even use of less resource.

PwC, one of the large auditing & consulting companies, predicts some 30K companies will become insolvent in 2024, with transport & storage one of the sectors listed as likely to be more affected.

So my advice for the start of 2024 is the same as the start of every year, but possibly with even more emphasis this year: pay attention to credit control and cashflow, as well as to volume of work. You can’t afford to let a single bill be unpaid or delayed.

Market elasticity

5 December 2023

Investopedia: "Elasticity is an economic concept used to measure the change in the aggregate quantity demanded of a good or service in relation to price movements of that good or service."

As I’ve said before, spot rates depend on a number of things, in particular, demand, capacity / availability at any point in time, and the costs of providing a service. In this post I’m using traffic levels as a proxy for a demand indicator.

The top two graphs below are traffic levels from the DfT index published monthly. HGV traffic to the left, Light Commercial traffic to the right. The bottom two graphs are the TEG indices for spot rates. Haulage to the left and courier to the right. DfT started published its figures to monitor the impact of Covid on the economy. The TEG indices are calculated from the average ppm paid on each of Transport Exchange Group’s freight exchange platforms.

Continued below graphs...

Aricia Update - TEG - Haulage - Courier - spot rates - DfT - traffic - HGV - LCV - logistics statistics

The graphs all start in November 2021 but whereas the TEG graphs go right through to November 2023, the DfT doesn’t now publish its data until the middle of the next month, so the graphs only go through to October 2023. The DfT and TEG indices both start at 100 at different times in the past (DfT February 2020 and TEG January 2019 for both indices), but I’ve not rebased them as I think the story is clear anyway.

If you mentally draw a line joining the first and last points on the graphs, you see that HGV traffic and haulage spot rates have tended down across this period (November traffic figures may yet surprise me!), whereas LCV traffic and courier spot rates rise across the same period.

The HGV/haulage fits the same sort of story as CEO of RHA Richard Smith’s recent comment that volumes are c10% down. The LCV/courier fits with the long term pattern (see the large graph on slide 10 of this presentation I gave) of increase - as I always comment, much more van traffic is tradesmen etc rather than vehicles carrying out deliveries.

Setting aside the various spikes, these different measures seem to be showing the same trends and telling the same story: market elasticity.

Inflation & pay divergence …for now

22 November 2023

Yesterday the increase in the National Living Wage for April next year was announced by the government. The Chancellor accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations with the new rate set at £11.44 compared with the current rate of £10.42, a 9.8% increase. NB The Low Pay Commission is made up of business, employee and academic representatives.

So what’s the graph showing us. The majority of the graph isn’t mine, but was published by the BBC last week and its aim was to demonstrate the current divergence of wage growth and price inflation. Two things have happened since then – the very next day the inflation figure for October was announced and yesterday we heard about the NLW increase. I’ve manually added these to the graph, trying to position them in the right place, both with respect to date and value. I’ve deliberately made the NLW a different colour to the wage growth line as it doesn’t represent all workers by any means - the NLW affects just over 2.5m workers with the objective of bringing their wages up to two thirds of average earnings.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - BBC - wage growth - inflation - NLW - CPI - statistics

It’s beneficial that people are paid a decent wage and it’s in the interest of government and tax payer not to pay more benefit to low paid workers than is necessary, but the flip side is that this increase will have an upward cascade on wages generally, feeding into inflation, particularly in service industries, at a time when inflation was starting to reduce.

Given this and the talk of tax cuts, which we will hear more about in the Autumn Statement later today, I’m not at all surprised that Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, found it necessary to step into the ring yesterday and say that inflation might not fall as quickly as some are hoping.

Are couriers better negotiators?

15 November 2023

With consumer price inflation down to 4.6% today and the TEG index for October out, I’ve had another look at how the TEG figures compare with the SPPI for Freight Transport by Road and for Other Postal and Courier Services (‘Other’ meaning that it’s not Postal Services Under Universal Service Obligation – mainly Royal Mail).

The TEG road transport price indices, published monthly by the Transport Exchange Group, represent movement in ppm for spot rates paid by users for transport provided via the two freight exchange platforms.

The blue dotted line represents the TEG index for haulage, and the orange dotted line is the TEG index for courier work.

The SPPI, from the ONS, is a series of quarterly indices – it stands for Services Producer Price Inflation and is like the CPI for consumer inflation, but measures the changes in prices paid for services from UK businesses, including logistics.

The solid blue line represents the SPPI index for road freight, and the solid orange is the SPPI index for courier services, rebased so they start at the same level as the TEG, 100 for Q1 2019.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - SPPI - Road Freight - TEG Index - Transport Exchange Group - Haulage - Courier - spot rates - margins - logistics statistics

The SPPI moves more smoothly than TEG – partly because it includes more contractual deals and partly because being quarterly irons out the bumps – but, being quarterly, it’s always slightly behind the times, hence not getting to the ‘end’ of the graph.

The SPPI for Road Freight showed year-on-year deflation for Q3, of the order of 2%, and the TEG index for Haulage showed a similar decline over the same period. Of course, diesel was some 35-40ppl less than it had been in 2022, but was on its way back up in October.

One thing that strikes me about the graph is the different paths for the indicators for haulage and courier, with the SPPI for courier work continuing to show inflation of 3.7% for Q3 2023 v Q3 2022. And the TEG indices for each, while more seasonal, showing a similar split, although the TEG courier is now also in deflation. Note: The TEG indices have generally shown a month-on-month reduction from September to October, so that probably signifies nothing.

Another note, an important point: just because the indices are based on ppm and the courier index is now more than the haulage index, that doesn’t mean that ppm for courier is larger than for haulage. It means it has risen more since they were both 100 at the start of 2019.

But I’m left wondering whether couriers are better negotiators than hauliers. Bearing in mind that non-fuel costs have gone up by about a third over the past few years plus the price of diesel, while there will be some (including the BoE) who will be celebrating, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how some hauliers are making money or surviving!

DQC Update

20 October 2023

Periodically Aricia makes a request from DVLA for an update about how many CE and C-only drivers have DQCs - we think that gives a better feeling for the state of play than the number of people saying they work as Large Goods Vehicle Drivers. And the picture for this update is a series of graphs, which are explained below this image.

Aricia Update - HGV Drivers - DQC numbers - logistics statistics

Looking at the graph at top left first, the reason that there are irregular gaps between the bars on the chart, is because the data is only available when we've made an information request. We've coloured this data dark blue for CE drivers, those that can drive artics, and light blue additionally for C-only drivers, those who can drive big rigids but not artics. While we don't know what's gone on in the gaps (in particular in 2021, when I didn't have the heart to ask an organisation that was plainly under stress), we can see that there is a general upward trend.

Looking at the chart at bottom left next, we can see that there has been an increase in all areas since 2015 (before the Brexit vote in 2016). There's been an increase in those with a licence and medical (able to do the job with one week's training), an increase in those with a DQC (ready to do the job now) and a small increase in those doing the job. Obviously there are other reasons for having a licence - you may be a scaffolder, but need an HGV licence to carry your scaffolding around. You may be lucky enough to be rich enough to have horses and a large truck to transport them around in. But many people will be available and, according to job ad stats, looking for an HGV driving role.

The two graphs on the right show the age profile in two different years, and the arrows show that drivers have become eight years older during this period, and moved from the start of one bar to the end of the next. What these graphs show is how different the age profile of those immediately able to do the job is in 2023. Yes, we have what I think of as the Stalwarts, those drivers who have been in the industry all their lives, but we now also have a good tranche of younger drivers available, thanks to the various initiatives taken by the DfT and various industry bodies.

If you'd like the image as a pdf which you can download and save, here it is: DQC Update Autumn 2023.

Margin erosion

13 October 2023

Sometimes it helps to look at things a little differently. Rather than looking at the movement of prices continuously over time, comparing what happened year by year can be helpful. These price indices are based on what customers are paying in pence per mile for hauliers and couriers booked on a spot basis on the Transport Exchange Group platforms.

Both graphs, haulage and courier, use the same colour scheme:

  • 2019 in orange – ‘normal’
  • 2020 in yellow – starting and ending the year in similar places to 2019 but showing quite different responses to the start of Covid
  • 2021 in green – both rising quite steeply as staycations were taken and the economy over-heated but with the haulage index showing the impact of the pandemic HGV driver crisis
  • 2022 in blue – both indices enter the year at a not dissimilar level but then it’s the courier index, on the right-hand graph, which shows a sharp increase as the price of diesel impacts while haulage prices, on the left-hand side, start to show deflation at the point where the blue line starts to run under the green line
  • 2023 in purple – haulage is showing continued deflation with the purple line under the blue for the whole of the year so far while courier rates start to show deflation from midway through this year – where the purple line ducks under the blue line

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - TEG Index - Transport Exchange Group - Haulage - Courier - spot rates - margins - logistics statistics

We can see that it’s absolutely normal for prices to rise in September – they’ve done that every year for both haulage and courier, as everyone returns from holidays. We can also see that it won’t be surprising if prices dip a little in October – they’ve done that more often than not.

However, what we can also see is that courier rates are now some 18% higher than they were in September 2019, whereas haulage spot rates are only some 10% higher. For reference, both diesel and consumer prices have gone up by more than 20% over the same sort of period.

Yes, that haulage might be mainly backloads, but margins must be suffering erosion.

Reducing demand?

8 September 2023

I’m still really interested in the TEG Road Transport Price Index and what it tells us about what is going on in the road transport spot markets. Last month I looked at the Courier element of the TEG index versus diesel price and logistics job ads, so I thought I’d do the same with the Haulage element this time but in a more conventional way!

So what’s the graph showing? The dotted pink line is the Adzuna index for logistics job ads, the dashed grey line is for diesel pump price and the solid blue line is the TEG index for haulage for spot rates for vehicles using the Transport Exchange Group haulage platform. The TEG index and the diesel index that I’ve created both start at 100 and are on the LH axis, the job ads index fluctuates more and so I’ve put it on the RH axis – the scaling is my decision and has been done to make all the indices start in the same sort of place on the graph and to show the correlation between the logistics job ads index and the TEG haulage index from the start of 2019 through to Spring 2022.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - TEG Index - Transport Exchange Group - Haulage - spot rates - diesel cost - Adzuna - job ads - logistics statistics

Back in February, the ONS published some one-off data from Textkernel specifically about freight drivers which showed close correlation with the Adzuna data for general logistics jobs which the ONS publishes regularly, so it’s no surprise that the Adzuna logistics job ads has close correlation with the Haulage TEG.

After overheating in 2021, particularly with respect to drivers, logistics requirement for new people cooled a bit, but by Spring 2022 the price of diesel was rocketing, and we can see how the TEG ‘pulled’ away from the job ads index.

So, we can see the extent to which the jobs market and the cost of diesel affect spot haulage rates, but another factor which has a strong effect on price is demand. There are indices which give us a feel for this.

The HGV traffic index from DfT actually has a closer correlation to the TEG than diesel, although not available for the full time period on the graph - it only started in March 2020 as a response to Covid. HGV traffic levels were comparatively low in 2022, which is why that diesel hike didn’t have as much impact as it might have done and, HGV traffic having risen in May 2023 to the highest point since Dec 2021, has then dropped in June and July – we don’t have August yet.

And Supply Management, reporting on the S&P Global / CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index which is at it’s lowest level since May 2020, noted slowing market conditions and declining new order intakes.

Although diesel went up in August, the Adzuna index for logistics job ads went down for first time versus July since that index started in 2018. The TEG Haulage index has gone up in August for the past four years, and it’s done just that this year, although only a tiny increase. The key question is what does that tell us about the economy as a whole?

Courier cost drivers

14 August 2023

Looks a bit scary? I’ve certainly tried to pack quite a lot of information into one graph! Last time I posted on the Courier element of the TEG Road Transport Price Index, there was interest about its relationship to the price of diesel, but there are also other cost drivers.

So, what is the graph showing? Each of the filled circles represents a data point for a particular month/year. If you follow down from any particular circle, the X-axis indicates the pump price of diesel at the middle of that month. If you follow left from any particular circle, the Y-Axis indicates how high the Adzuna index for job adverts in logistics, transport & warehousing was, again at the middle of the month.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - TEG Index - Transport Exchange Group - Courier - spot rates - diesel cost - Adzuna - job ads - logistics statistics

The size of the circle indicates the level of the TEG Courier index – the bigger it is the higher the pence per mile that customers needing spot courier work were paying on Transport Exchange Group’s platform. The TEG index figure represents the average across the whole month. The different years are then coloured up as follows:

  • 2019, the first year the TEG index is available, is shown in brown – you can see that there isn’t a great deal of variation in either diesel price or job ad level – 2019 was what we thought of as ‘normal’ with December the most expensive (largest circle) for hiring couriers, as it has been in all years shown
  • 2020 was the year the pandemic started and is shown in yellow – the diesel price dropped a bit due to the lockdown effect on general traffic
  • 2021, shown in red, was the year the economy was opening up with staff shortages leading to very high job advert levels, impacting on spot prices – you can see the circles growing in size
  • 2022, shown in grey, was when the war in Ukraine started and impacted on diesel prices big time, again impacting on spot prices – the circle to far right is July 2022
  • Finally, 2023 shown in green with July 2023, the latest data point, indicated – the spot prices are still comparatively large despite the reduced diesel price – 21% higher than in July 2019

So, why is the courier index still relatively high when there is less pressure on staffing (low job ads) and the price of diesel has come down from its peak? It’s because Light Commercial Vehicle traffic was at an all-time high in June although it came down a little in July. That index isn’t shown - there’s a limit to quite how many things you can usefully show and describe on one graph!

Fortunately, we’ve had nothing up in the top right-hand corner, nothing with both very high index for logistics job adverts and very high diesel prices happening together, so I’ve been able to place the key for this graph up there!

Not very green!

5 August 2023

I’ve thought of doing this post for a while, but there’s nothing like a miserable rainy weekend to get on with it: the impact of property prices on the environmental friendliness, or not, of logistics.

In the same way that commuters are often forced to live further away from work than they would wish because of property prices, logistics operations are often further from the centre of their customer demand than is ideal.

Some of you will have seen a similar map to the inset before, when I’ve done posts on the business rates assessment of large DCs – red is the highest valuation through the rainbow and ending up with purple as the lowest valuation.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - business rates - industrial property - mileage - environment - logistics statistics

But what I’ve thought about doing and have only got around to posting today is the relationship between property prices (or their rateable value assessment) and their distance from the centre of action.

What the main graph shows is the distance in road miles from Park Royal (centre of the universe!) on the x-axis and on the y-axis the rateable value per sqm. Each spot represents a large DC in the business rates data for England & Wales, sized and coloured up by its size.

Other than one or two outliers, there is quite strong correlation in the drop off and levelling out as the distance from Park Royal increases, and then with a lift at the end as the warehouses start being closer to north than south. It can also be seen that the banana-shaped correlation is similar for both smaller and larger sized warehouses.

It’s virtually impossible to counteract the market elasticity that supply and demand imposes on property costs, but the way that logistics does that is to position its warehouses away from where its customers live and work. This isn’t green - I put some figures around this in an article for SHD Logistics just after the Nocado no-go decision back in 2021.

We are where we are, and accommodating large logistics operations in city centres is probably a thing of the past, but out-of-town generates longer distances and larger volumes of traffic.

It's a mixed bag...

19 July 2023

Along with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), widely reported in the mainstream press, the Services Producer Price Index (SPPI), which is only published quarterly, became available today for Quarter 2 (April to June). The SPPI is also from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) and is a series of quarterly indices – it’s a bit like the CPI for consumer inflation, but it measures the changes in prices paid for services from UK businesses. I’ve picked out a few logistics-related elements to have a look at – I’ve shown the past five years, taking all prices back to a base of 100 at Q2 2018 so you can see the increase in prices since then.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - SPPI - ONS - road freight - warehousing - railfreight - inflation - logistics statistics

The two that stand out are Postal Services Under Universal Service Obligation (dark orange) at the bottom of the graph – I don’t remember Royal Mail prices going down at the start of 2021, but that seems to be the message here – it may be to do with the mix of letters and different parcel types. And then Other Transportation Support Services (pink) also stands out at the top of this graph. Back in January, the ONS reported: “other transportation support services saw a significant slowing in the annual rate as a result of ship-broker services reflecting the impact of lower freight rates”.

Then we have the SPPI aggregate index for all services (grey) - not just logistics, but a wide range of services from sewerage sludge, through publishing and real estate, to drycleaning and much else in between - that is now back under 5% year-on-year inflation.

We have road freight (blue) and courier services (light orange) ending up at the same sort of overall price increases – note these are different to the TEG Road Transport Prices Index, which I sometimes report on and which is for spot prices for consignments via Transport Exchange’s platforms. The SPPI is the result of a statutory survey, measuring changes in the price received for selected services provided by UK businesses.

And we have warehousing (purple) and railfreight (green) ending up at the same sort of overall price increase, at a higher finishing point than road freight and courier, but with warehousing flattening off while railfreight looks to be about to steam ahead, if you’ll excuse the pun.

It is only railfreight that is ahead of the CPI headline inflation, all the other indicators shown have year-on-year inflation of less than 5%, and in the case of Other Transportation Support Services there is deflation, albeit from a high rate of over 20% less than a year ago.

Prologis report

4 July 2023

At this year’s recent Multimodal I came across an interesting statistic from the Prologis report on its most recent sample survey of its occupants – 39% of employees in the warehouses surveyed were female. Interesting, because I had only recently calculated the proportion of women in logistics from the Office for National Statistics occupation statistics and come out with 15% - that also comes from surveys, and is then projected statistically to account for all people in employment across the UK.

The quality of the Prologis premises and distribution parks no doubt plays a big part in attracting a broader spectrum of employees, but they also tend to be larger premises occupied by larger companies, whereas we know that c4 out of 5 companies in Transport & Storage have 4 or fewer employees. This got me wondering about the relationship between the size of logistics companies and / or the size of the premises and the proportion of women employed.

The proportion of women in a company can be calculated from the gender pay gap data. The median percentage for logistics companies varies between 16-23% across the different size bands, but doesn’t follow a particular pattern – it doesn’t grow as the size of companies grow.

But I took the individual warehouse data in the Prologis report, and it’s interesting. My graph shows size of warehouse on the x-axis and total staff up the side. Each spot represents one of the (anonymous) warehouses and is coloured by the proportion of women working there. There’s two distinct clusters which I’ve marked with boxes.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - Prologis report - warehouse employment - gender - logistics statistics

Down in the bottom left box (among plenty of other warehouses) are all of the six locations with a low proportion of women (white filled spots) – all the companies with a low proportion of women are less than 200K sqft and have 100 or less workers. Whereas up in the top right box we have a different cluster – all of the six companies that are in premises over 325K sqft are in the top bracket with respect to the proportion of women employed in them (deep pink filled spots).

It's by no means a rule of thumb as there are plenty of exceptions in the first box and a mix elsewhere, but there does seem to be a bit of a pattern – companies in larger premises seem able to recruit a fairer proportion of women, perhaps because they have to put more effort in.

You can download the Prologis report, with all sorts of other interesting warehouse employment statistics – thanks Robin Woodbridge for sending it to me!

Automation – change in direction?

12 May 2023

The latest Modern Materials Handling magazine is out, along with its ever-interesting (to those in logistics anyway!) Top 20 System Suppliers - you can go straight to the oracle and read about it here, although ignore the growth calculation at the bottom of the Moderns table.

But I’ve done my usual thing, which is to bung all the figures into a graph …or at least, in this case, update the graph I’ve produced for a number of years.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - Moderns - automation - global revenue - warehousing - logistics statistics

The story of the past few years has been growth – both generally and of the big players. The graph shows the worldwide revenue of the top 10 individually featured in the coloured bars, entries 11-20 combined (deep purple) and in previous years the companies that were in the top 20 previously (lighter shade of pale) but not now. The graph shows the accelerated growth that occurred between 2015 and 2021, resulting in approximately double the revenue over that period.

But this year has broken with the mould of the past few years. The story this year is of contraction or stasis for some of the larger players, but expansion for the smaller ones – you can immediately see the increased proportion of the 2022 bar which the deep purple element at the top represents.

With all the current cost of living headlines, one’s mind immediately questions to what extent inflation is playing into this growth, particularly with respect to the price of steel. Increased demand for automation, to cope with the increased demand for online shopping that the pandemic brought, coincided with a reduction in steel production at the start of Covid and the price of steel was then further impacted by the war in Ukraine, along with a host of other factors around the globe.

To what extent did the price of steel contribute to the increased revenue growth of the Top 20 in 2021? Traditional automation is very steel heavy. The price of steel appears to be coming back down again – to what extent is that now deinflating revenues of the larger ‘traditional’ automation companies? Or are there other factors?

That increased growth rate of the smaller players in the Top 20 shows that they are not just copycatting, but leading the market with the flexibility of some of the newer technologies. They are not sitting on the subs bench - their time has come.

Low driver vacancies = low spot rates?

8 March 2023

I continue to be interested in how low the TEG index for haulage is recently. I know that February has been the lowest month of the year since the Transport Exchange Group started publishing this index (apart from covid-impacted 2020), but the haulage element of the TEG still has an element of year-on-year deflation, ongoing since June, despite rises in many operational costs. However, if we look at job adverts for drivers as a proxy for vacancies which, in turn, could be a proxy for resource availability / capacity, perhaps we see the explanation for those low spot rates.

Last month the ONS published a one-off report looking at online job adverts as a proxy for labour demand, covering the period 2017 through 2022 - the data for this ONS report came from Textkernel, an online job search engine. The category for ‘freight drivers’ represented about 1.4% of online job adverts in the last quarter of 2022. The ONS has five points which address why these ads might not represent labour demand accurately, with a pertinent one for logistics being that “adverts may represent multiple posts …for identical, or very similar positions” and it also makes the point that “the scope of online job adverts does not fully capture the scope of UK economic activity, because of differing advertising methods …word-of-mouth or in shop windows”. A key alternative in logistics is the back of trucks, where adverts for drivers form part of the livery for some companies.

Continued below graph..."

Aricia Update - TEG Index - Haulage - Textkernel - ONS - job adverts - freight drivers - logistics statistics

What the graph shows is the number of Textkernel online job adverts for freight drivers (there is no category for HGV drivers or for van drivers, but there is a separate category for couriers & delivery personnel, not included here) – this is represented by the continuous darker blue line which starts at January 2017 and is measured against the left hand axis. I’ve included the non-overlap period so that we can see a longer period of what ‘normal’ looked like.

The TEG index representing pence per mile for haulage spot rates is shown by the dotted lighter blue line which starts at a base of 100 at January 2019 and runs through to February 2023, the most recently published figure – this is measured against the right hand axis. The choice of scales is mine and is designed to show the relatively close correlation for much of the overlap period, although the two lines diverge after May 2022 and stay apart. This divergence is due to the impact of various increased costs elements including diesel.

The level of Textkernel job ads, back to under 20K, suggest that driver supply is now no worse than it was pre-Covid. And the comparative lowness of haulage spot rates suggests excess capacity in the market / low demand.

Amazon excess

24 February 2023

Time to revisit Amazon’s square footage and see how it compared with internet sales and, therefore, likely requirement, following the news earlier this month in Logistics Manager that Amazon was starting to sublet some of its logistics locations, although only one smallish location was identified, along with others due to close which had been reported elsewhere.

The orange area on the graph shows the square footage for Amazon fulfilment centres in the UK, in millions. The grey then shows, additionally, the square footage for various other types of Amazon logistics locations eg delivery centres. This data comes from the amazing resource that MWPVL regularly compile, which I’ve then supplemented from my own research, and both are shown against the left hand axis.

The dark blue line, which is plotted against the right hand axis, shows Internet sales in £mpa for Non-store retailing only ie for Pureplay like Amazon - Amazon’s UK turnover is usually 40-50% of this figure, although some will come from other sources. This internet sales data comes from the ONS. I’ve chosen the scale to best match the fulfilment centre square footage (the orange area) and you can see that it is generally quite a close fit …until 2022.

When you consider that this is showing value before inflation has been taken into account, you can imagine what the physical volume might have done - which is, after all, what we shift in logistics.

Aricia Update - Amazon logistic - MWVPL - Internet sales - ONS - Logistics Statistics - eccomerce statistics

Logistics feeling the heat?

3 February 2023

Earlier today the ONS published the latest economic real-time indicators. I was interested to see in the report that’s part of the release, there were graphs of several sectors’ job ads, but not logistics, although it’s been included before.

Adzuna is a search engine for job adverts - it scrapes job ads from all over the web: recruitment companies, job boards, employer’s websites… The ONS uses this data and publishes two versions:

  • One includes potential duplicates - where, for example, employers advertise and then the same job is advertised by recruitment companies on their behalf
  • And a cleansed version where they try to strip out those extras that are ‘inflating’ the actual requirement = deduplicated

I was intending to look at the Adzuna job adverts data anyway, as I was wondering to what extent it was possible to visualise not just ‘heat’ in the logistics industry, but to have a measure of panic with respect to staff shortages.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - ONS - Adzuna - Job Adverts - Logistics Statistics

So, the graph. You’ll see that it covers a number of years from 2018. The lilac lines shows the two versions of the same information across the whole UK, all industries: the raw data which includes duplicates (dotted) and the deduplicated data (continuous line). You can see that, although they do separate and stay separated from autumn 2020 onwards, there is little difference between these lines.

We then have the grey lines which represent job adverts for the category ‘Transport / logistics / warehouse’ – again dotted means raw data including duplicates and continuous means deduplicated:

  • In 2018 & 19, you can see the normal need logistics has for additional staffing for peak
  • In 2020 the country goes into lockdown and the job advert indices plummet ...and then pick up apace in the second half of the year
  • In 2021 the economy opens up, putting logistics under strain - for the first time the ‘heat’ starts showing with a high level of actual jobs to be filled, but a higher level of job adverts
  • In 2022 the requirement drops away, but the ‘heat’, the extra adverts for the same jobs, doesn’t go
  • At the end of 2022 and start of 2023 we have the usual plummet, followed by what is beginning to look like a usual pick up in January
  • And then we have the most recent figures – while job ad levels are low in comparison with where they were in 2021, the difference between the actual level of requirements and the level of job adverts is the most extreme seen

So what can we conclude about 2023? I’ll be honest, I’d be surprised if things were hot out there at the moment – it’s not what I’m hearing anecdotally. I have asked some questions, which is what I always do when I spot something that looks slightly odd. I’ll keep you posted!

One of the things I do is to find the stories in data – looking for the patterns and outliers in boring data, by putting it on maps, into graphs… If I can help you, please do yell or DM me.

Which way round?

10 January 2023

We know that with HGV drivers, shortages push up rates. But van drivers? Do less drivers push up rates or do higher courier rates attract more drivers. I think there has been a mix of those influence during the pandemic.

We also know from the recently published ‘Skills & Employment Update’ from Logistics UK that the number of van drivers in Q3 2022, was 8.5% down against three years ago. But, because there was an uplift in van drivers during 2021, that 2022 Q3 number is actually some 37K drivers below its peak.

The Office for National Statistics has identified an issue with collection of some of its survey data, but that reduction in van drivers is supported by a GoCompare survey, reported in November 2021, which revealed that more than 15% of Britain’s van drivers, equating to about 44K drivers, were planning to quit their jobs within 12 months (so, by the end of 2022). The numbers are not directly comparable. It depends on the influx of new drivers and on what you count as a van driver - official statistics would count someone if their main job of work was driving and delivering, but GoCompare is interested in people who wish to insure vans, and so it includes trades as well.

The graph below shows van driver numbers from the Logistics UK reports (the dark orange line using the left-hand axis) and the TEG courier index (the lighter dotted line using the right-hand axis). The van driver numbers are quarterly up to Q3 2022, in thousands. The TEG courier index is based on ppm for spot courier work with a base of 100 at the start of 2019 and shows the fluctuation in rates up to December 2022.

Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - TEG - Courier - Logistics UK - Van Drivers - Logistics Statistics

The scales on the two axes is my choice, but in the first half of the graph, it looks as if when courier rates go down, so does the number of drivers. And the mirror image, with higher courier rates seeming to attract van drivers into the sector – either as owners or increased recruitment by companies. More recently though, it seems as if the mechanism has completely changed, with that recent reduction in van drivers pushing through into the increased rates.

Of course, both the number of drivers and the rates could have as much to do with the number of vans available. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that overall 20% less new light commercial vehicles were registered in 2022 compared with 2021, or nearly 23% less if you want to compare with pre-pandemic figures in 2019. This is put down to supply chain issues as order books are said to be strong. But going back to the Logistics UK Skills Update, more respondents to the most recent survey are reporting problems filling van driver vacancies, so it’s not just the number of vans. Perhaps van drivers have been upskilling and getting HGV licences?

Living in hope

10 December 2022

The OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) is assuming that fuel tax will go up considerably in the Spring. That news, combined with prices that have been more extreme than petrol, means that it’s time to have a look at diesel. Diesel has been hit hard in comparison with petrol as an RAC fuel spokesman explained in October: The UK has already banned Russian diesel imports and demand from Europe is higher than usual as it looks to reduce its reliance on gas.

In a recent statement to the Treasury Committee, the Chair of the OBR said: “Our forecast is based on Government policy that was announced back in March, which was that there was going to be a 5p cut to fuel duty this year, but then it was going to be made up from April next year, which means that you would add 5p on top of the usual RPI indexation…”.

That assumption is apparently based on the 5p cut earlier this year being *reversed* in 2023, although recouping it was not mentioned in the Spring statement factsheet. The OBR also assumes the ‘usual’ RPI indexation, which hasn’t happened for a decade.

Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - TEG - Diesel - OBR - Road haulage - Logistics Statistics

So, the graph. First, there’s three elements of the TEG Index, which are based on the spot rates for the pence per mile being agreed between providers and users through the Transport Exchange Group’s platforms. The grey line is the combination index for road transport prices, yellow is the index for Couriers and blue is Hauliers.

The dark dotted line is an index for the cost of diesel. The price is from BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) data - the closest possible to the mid-point of the month. The BEIS costs are pump prices, but the VAT effect disappears when you are looking at percentage increase in cost, which is the same regardless of whether VAT is included. Bulk fuel is less than pump prices but moves in a similar pattern. I’ve made the index start at the same level and timeframe as the TEG, so they can be compared.

In 2019 the TEG and diesel indices started together, with the TEG having the upper hand in the latter half of the year when demand for transport is stronger. The price of diesel then plummets at the start of Covid, due to much less demand during lockdowns. During 2021, the TEG indices went up much faster than diesel, with the opening up of the economy coinciding with a driver shortage. However, in 2022, diesel has been at very high rates which are not reflected in the TEG indices, particularly haulage, meaning that spot rates are unlikely to be covering full costs.

Fingers crossed, but does anybody think an increase in fuel duty will be as invisible as the 5p reduction was?

Amazon – too much space?

11 November 2022

The news a couple of months back was about Amazon closing, cancelling and delaying warehouses in the US. Given today’s news in the UK, about the economy starting to shrink, it seemed to be the right time to have another look at Amazon's footprint in the UK.

Along with a lot of people, I'm really grateful for the wonderful work that MWPVL do each year in annotating known locations and pipeline around the world.

My map, created using Maptitude, shows both Fulfilment Centres and the various other logistics operations. Although many of the headlines report huge sqft, these can include multiple structural mezzanines that have been rentalised - I've tried to bring all the figures back to footprint, to make them more comparable with other logistics operations.

There’ll be more retail sales figures out in a week’s time, but in the meantime the most recent we have were for September. Weekly internet sales were c92% of September last year and the subset of internet sales from non-store retailing was down by a similar amount – that’s value not volume. Meanwhile the footprint has carried on growing in recent years.


Aricia Update - Amazon UK - SqFt - MWPVL - Fulfilment Centres - Logistics Operations - Map - Logistics Statistics – ecommerce statistics

Delivery charges on hold

9 November 2022

My interest piqued by having looked at the courier element of the TEG index a couple of times recently (see further down this page), I thought I’d do an update on what consumers are being charged for home deliveries these days. This research started off as part of a project for a client looking at the Next Day offer from various different fashion retailers back in 2009 and I’ve then updated this bit of it a few times since.

The graph below shows the change in order cut-off times and charges to the customer at five points over the past 13 years for Next Day delivery of fashion in the UK from five retailers. The various colours indicate the different retailers, with the cut-off time on the x-axis and the charge on the y-axis. The width of the ‘comet’ trace indicates the year, with the widest being 2022 to draw your attention to the current position (see legend). So what's going on?

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - Next Day - Delivery Costs - Logistics Update

I’ll start at the top of the legend and the bottom of the graph, with ASOS (blue). This shows the extent to which retailers are trying to protect consumers - the charge has remained the lowest across the whole period and the last order cut-off, having pushed out to midnight, had already pulled back to 10pm by 2020. ASOS also have a subscription service, which is good value if you’re a regular customer.

Harvey Nichols (red) didn't offer a next day service in 2014 hence the stray dot for 2009, and it continues to have the earliest cut-off and the highest charge. That highest current charge is shared (assuming you consider £8 and £7.99 to be the same!) with House of Fraser (green), but which offers a later cut-off, further extended in this latest data gathering.

Jigsaw (purple) has increased its price and reduced its service since I last did a snapshot. And finally John Lewis Partnership (orange) which has had the most consistent offer, with just a little refinement over the thirteen years.

Obviously there are now a much wider range of delivery fulfilment services available including Same Day etc, but back in 2009 when I started this, none of these five offered that (I recorded it at the time) and even in 2014 it was only being offered by House of Fraser. And although Click & Collect was being offered by all five by 2014, it was only from John Lewis that you could collect your purchase in 2009.

Four out of the five retailers have held their Next Day delivery charges at the same level as 2020, with ASOS continuing to offer the best value and the latest cut-off time.

Couriers at capacity?

7 October 2022

The TEG index is a monthly index published by the Transport Exchange Group which is based on the pence per mile based on spot rates actually paid. The overall TEG Road Transport Price Index is made up of both courier and haulage. Last month when the TEG came out, I looked at how the haulage element correlated with the DfT HGV traffic measure. So I thought I’d do the same this month, but for the courier index versus the DfT LCV measure. This time I’ve started the graph Jan 2019, where the TEG index started, so you can see what the TEG for courier rates did seasonally pre-Covid.

So, what this graph shows is the DfT (Department for Transport) Traffic index for Light Commercial Vehicles (yellow line measured against the left hand axis). And the TEG Road Transport Price Index for couriers (dotted orange, RH axis), which is based on the pence per mile paid for couriers organised on the Transport Exchange Group platform.

As I mentioned, the TEG index started at 100 at the beginning of 2019. The DfT index commenced in March 2020 (as a response to Covid) based on 100 representing the same day of week in the first week of February 2020 – I’ve used the Wednesday nearest the middle of each month.

We can see that there have been a couple of severe drops for the LCV index. The positioning of the scales is my choice to best show the patterns without using excess space to show the impact of the first lockdown - for those who are interested, the LCV traffic index dropped to as low as 44 mid-April 2020 and 61 mid-May 2020.

If you play a spotting game going into or out of a major city, yelling ‘trade’ or ‘delivery’ every time you see a van, you quickly realise that there are many more vans used by the trades. Think construction, maintenance, servicing, repairs… Think people who have to use a vehicle to get tools, equipment, parts and materials on site, but who aren’t carrying out deliveries as such. And this is borne out by DfT statistics for 2019-20 (the most up to date there is) – see p10 for van usage and mileage split.

So, although internet sales rose hugely during lockdowns (shown in grey banding on the graph), the measure for van traffic doesn’t match the courier rates well during these periods as we know that many trades were badly affected. We also know that many ‘lower skilled’ jobs are currently suffering shortages so, even though we know that internet sales are not everything the retailers would hope for, van traffic seems to have stopped rising. I think that the current courier story may be about capacity as well as inflation for us to be seeing such continued increases in rates.

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Price Index - Courier - DfT - Traffic - Vans - Logistics Update

We’re short of workers in the UK, right?

27 September 2022

We’re short of workers in the UK, right?

Nearly everywhere I go in logistics I hear about it. Nearly every magazine or news email I read talks about it. It seems to have moved from truck drivers to inside the warehouse and at managerial level, but the story is the same - shortage.

Other topics I keep coming across in the news and on Twitter, are things like the current length of NHS waiting lists, the number of people suffering from long Covid, the number of people who can’t stop shielding because vaccines don’t work for everyone – think those undergoing cancer treatments, etc.

I’ve included slides in a presentation and written subsequent posts on the topic of the Silver Exodus – older workers moving into economic inactivity. Economic inactivity is people, aged 16-64, who are neither working nor actively seeking employment.

But it was only on reading an ONS (Office for National Statistics) publication that came out earlier this month that I joined all the dots together.

The single largest reason for economic inactivity back in the ‘90s, and no doubt before that, was ‘Looking after family / home’. And that continued to be the case predominantly until 2013. In 2013 being a student took over and remained the single largest reason for most of the time until 2021.

But in 2021, and it remains the case in the most recent survey for May to July 2022, the single largest cause became ‘Long-term sick’. So, we’re desperately short of workers, in the NHS as well as logistics, but the largest cause of economic inactivity is now …people needing the NHS.

If it hadn’t been for another ONS (Office for National Statistics) publication, fresh out today, piquing my interest (Reasons for workers aged over 50 years leaving employment since the start of the coronavirus pandemic), I wouldn’t have had a look back at that earlier publication and the data that went with it.

Having had my realisation, I find that Faisal Islam wrote a piece, a fortnight ago, where he connects the record numbers of long-term sick with economic impact. But I don’t think this is something that is being shouted loudly enough – the current largest cause of economic inactivity is long-term sickness.

The record NHS waiting lists and Covid are impacting the numbers of workers in our industry as well as the wider economy.

Aricia Update - NHS Waiting lists - Long Covid - long term sick - inactivity - ONS - Economic & Health Update

Reading the runes

7 September 2022

Anyone who doubts that we are entering recession only needs to listen to trade associations in our industry or statistical organisations talking about transport and storage. In an email about its tracker survey for Q2 sent out mid-August, Logistics UK commented: “As a result of industry difficulties, 35% of respondents reported a decrease in orders.” Logistics UK members include shippers as well as logistics providers, so this is not just about demand for transport, but will impact.

And in its fortnightly report on the impact on UK businesses of various current challenges, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) reported: “More than a third (37%) of businesses in the transportation and storage industry reported their turnover had decreased in July 2022” – although it needs to be said that official statistics do include passenger transport as well as logistics and there have been rail strikes, but I don’t believe that won’t have affected the percent of businesses much.

Or, if anyone still doubts that things are tough, they can look at the graph I’ve prepared for this post...

What this graph shows is the DfT (Department for Transport) Traffic index for heavy goods vehicles (light blue line measured against the left hand axis) which I’ve taken at the Wednesday nearest to the mid-point each month. And also the TEG Road Transport Price Index for hauliers (dotted dark blue, RH axis), which is based on the pence per mile paid for spot haulage organised on the Transport Exchange Group platform.

Although the TEG index started at 100 at the beginning of 2019, and the DfT index commenced in March 2020 based on 100 being the same day of week in the first week of February 2020, I’ve made the graph run from July 2020 as this avoids the very start of the pandemic when traffic volumes fell off a cliff.

You can see that while there is by no means an exact relationship between HGV traffic volumes and the price paid for haulage, they do tend to follow each other, and peaked in the same sort of pattern at the same sort of time (although it needs to be said that the positioning of the height is down to my choice of scales to best show the matching patterns).

What we can see right now is that HGV traffic volumes in mid-August 2022 were at 100, the same level as February 2020, with post-Christmas usually considered the lowest part of the year. But August was also a temporary low in traffic last year, although perhaps for different reasons, and this was a time where there wasn’t good correlation - the TEG haulage index just powered on through.

This year this element of the TEG may have risen a little but is *much* more restrained.

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Price Index - Haulage - DfT - Traffic - Logistics Update

The impact of home shopping on warehousing

26 August 2022

When I spoke at Tomorrow’s Warehouse back in June, I put up a similar graph, but this one has been both updated, and changed in a crucial way. I commented that it was really the last time I could be lazy and do the calculation I’d done just based on the value of merchandise – the inevitable happened and, after the event, someone challenged me to show the impact after I’d stripped out inflation!

First of all, what’s the graph below showing. The green elements ARE value – they are measured against the left-hand axis and represent the value in £billions based on my best estimate of non-food retail and etail sales using ONS (Office for National Statistics) data.

The darkest green is retail of non-food carried out in-store, and we can see the squeeze that lockdowns put on that element of business. The mid-green represents non-food etail sales that have been made by companies with stores, but the sales have been made online and delivered to home. The lightest green is pure play – sales made by companies that only operate online - the latter will, unfortunately, include some food (Amazon pantry, Ocado, some specialist online-only food businesses…) which it is impossible for me to remove as there are no separated statistics published. It’s not seasonally adjusted, but it is a moving average, which will smooth out much of the seasonal variance. And we can see the extent to which the light and, particularly, mid-green rose dramatically in value during the first stages of Covid.

Back in 2016, Prologis, the largest industrial real estate company in the world, and very familiar to those of us in logistics, came up with a bit of a formula: “Our research reveals online retailers need approximately 1.2 MSF per billion dollars of online sales on average, which is three times the distribution center space required for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers” - MSF is millions of square feet and at the time, this translated to roughly 1.6m sqft per billion GBP online sales and 0.5m for retail.

Obviously since then there have been price variations, with inflation particularly acute in the past few months, and warehousing is very much influenced by volume not value. For retail sales, the ONS publish both value and volume, but that’s not the case for internet sales – I asked. The advice that came back was a suggestion that I might assume that the relationship between value and volume for internet sales was aligned with retail sales, and so that is what I have done.

So the solid grey line, which refers to the right-hand axis, uses the Prologis rules of thumb converted from dollars to pounds, with the sales data for etail and retail separately converted to volume using the retail value to volume ratio, to calculate an estimate of the warehousing square footage required. And, although convoluted, we can see that that figure rises at a fairly even rate until the start of Covid.

The calculated requirement then does what we know the real warehousing requirement has done, after the very initial impact of the first lockdown, and that is to grow at a vastly increased rate. However, more recently, the volume of goods being bought in total has been quite flat and the proportion being bought online has been dropping off, resulting in a drop in the estimated warehousing requirement. I’ve put in a trend line based for what one might have expected as a warehousing growth requirement pre-pandemic – this has also been updated from the Tomorrow’s Warehouse slide to be based on volume sales rather than value.

If you’re selling online, you may be struggling for space or you may feel you over-estimated, but what the graph most definitely shows is how difficult it is to forecast and plan in logistics at the moment!

Aricia Update - Warehousing - Sales - Inflation - ONS - Prologis - Retail & Logistics Update

Silver return?

19 July 2022

When I spoke at Tomorrow’s Warehouse in June, I included a statistic that surprised some people – that the nationwide reduction in Forklift Truck Drivers over the past couple of years has been more than a third - that statistic is from the Office for National Statistics workforce numbers on Nomis.

The graphs I also used in that presentation, about the Silver Exodus, came from an academic paper referred to in a post on the World Economic Forum website. The thrust of that post is that there were c300K more UK workers aged 50-65 “economically inactive” than before Covid – neither working or seeking work. It also gave detail on sectors and occupations most affected:

  • Wholesale & retail (40% rise), Transport & storage (+30%), and Manufacturing (+25%) had the largest proportional rise in inactivity in over-50s
  • Process plant & machine operatives (+50%) and Sales & customer service occupations (+40%) were the occupations with largest percentage rises

Most of this Silver Exodus demographic said they didn’t ever intend to return to work. The piece surmised that it could be that workers had saved more during the pandemic and could now afford to retire earlier than planned.

If you look at the Silver Exodus graphs, the red one is interesting as it represents workers who earned £18-35Kpa in their most recent job and shows the percentage of employed workers in that 50-65 age bracket who became economically inactive one year later. These workers were more and more likely to become economically inactive.

So, logistics has been one of the larger areas of loss and, while I suspect that the process plant & machine operatives are more manufacturing occupations, they sound like some of the sorts of jobs we have in logistics …say forklift truck drivers? £18-35K is the sort of pay for the lower paid half of FLT drivers. And in a recent survey of Forklift Truck Drivers carried out by Talent in Logistics, nearly half (48%) were over 50.

I said in my presentation at Tomorrow’s Warehouse, that my own thoughts were that it could well be that some of this older demographic now look to return to work because of the cost of living crisis. And this does indeed seem to be the case – witness the graph in this tweet, today, from the Resolution Foundation.

Logistics needs to be ready - it’s the opportunity to welcome some FLT drivers and other staff back into the industry.

Aricia Update - Forklift Truck Drivers - World Economic Forum - Silver Exodus - economic inactivity - Resolution Foundation - Talent in Logistic - Logistics Update

Stockpiling on the up

4 July 2022

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone working in the logistics and supply chain sectors, but businesses are stockpiling, and in increasing numbers. Late last week, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published its fortnightly bulletin on ‘Business insights and impact on the UK economy’, which looks at the impact of the various challenges facing the economy. The bulletin is based on responses from a fortnightly business survey.

What the graph shows is the answers given over time to the question: Is your business stockpiling any goods or materials? It’s for businesses in all sectors which are currently trading and responded to the voluntary survey.

You can see that the answers Yes (Green) and Not Sure (Grey) are clearly trending upwards – I’ve shown the trends as hardlines and the more varying results to each survey as the dotted lines. While the trend for No as an answer (Lilac, measured on the right-hand axis, and so much larger as a proportion) is trending downwards.

Different questions are asked in different surveys, and the responses to this question are only recorded in the accompanying data since the start of 2021. Although some more recent increases in stockpiling might be put down to ‘accidental’ stock increase due to reducing sales and/or buying ahead to beat inflationary price increases, the graph also shows is that over this period, confidence in the supply chain has reduced rather than improved.

Earlier in June, in a previous bulletin, the ONS reported that the top three resources being stockpiled in late May were metals and materials (25%), food (23%) and manufacturing parts (21%).

Aricia Update - Stockpiling - ONS - Logistics Update

The BIG Squeeze

10 June 2022

The latest TEG Road Transport Price Index came out yesterday - May was nearly level against April. The courier element rose a little, but the haulage index went down slightly. Also yesterday, the price of diesel went up yet again, taking the cost of filling up an average car to over £100.

What I’ve done in the graph below is to take the costs from Motor Transport’s 2018 Cost Tables for an artic unit & trailer and update them for January 2019 diesel costs and put profit in at 2% of turnover. Note, profit is already very low, but it’s what the big boys in the road transport industry seem to average according to Motor Transport’s Top 100. So you can see the proportion of turnover companies spent on diesel, driver & vehicle and then what’s left over for overheads and profit. I’ve taken that as a sort of benchmark of normality.

It adds to 100 in January 2019, not only to show the percent each element of costs represented at that time, but also because the haulage element of the TEG Road Transport Price Index was 100 in that month, when it started.

I’ve then left a gap for the intervening years and recalculated costs at the midpoint each month from Jan 2022 to May, reflecting the various cost increases in diesel, driver & vehicle and what’s left over for overheads and profit if income achieved the equivalent of the spot rate of the TEG index, which is what the height of each bar represents.

You can see the real squeeze on what is left after all direct costs have been covered. Yes, I know some companies will have drivers employed for years, potentially at lower cost, and some will be operating vehicles that are not brand new. So there may be a little more in the ‘overheads & potential profit’ pot, but that pot has to cover compliance, planning, yard & office space, power, computers, phones, tolls, parking, PCNs, the accounts team and other management functions, among other costs.

At the end of last year, I predicted 2022 was the year of the 3 ‘i’s – inflation, interest rates & investment. About that last point, I said: I believe there will be a focus and pressure on indirect costs - overheads & HO – automating as many admin activities as possible. However… I don’t believe that has happened that quickly, and (I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again) I do believe that many hauliers will not be making a profit right now, and some will be making a loss.

The current diesel increases will really be impacting hauliers, hauliers who need to operate on an economically sustainable basis if we’re to have food delivered tomorrow as well as yesterday. More worrying is that some may be suffering cashflow problems today because certain customers take for ever to settle invoices, and in the meantime the haulier forks out more & more cash upfront to do the job. And, as I mentioned at the start of this piece, the cost of diesel continues to rise…

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Price Index - Motor Transport - Cost Tables - Top 100 - Haulage - Logistics Update

Do haulage buyers have the upper hand?

11 May 2022

Road haulage spot rates have started rising again and so has driver pay. There’s a seasonal pattern: quiet following the excess of Christmas …and then things start to pick back up in spring.

What you’re seeing on the graph is two indices – the TEG index for haulage (dark blue dotted line) and an index for HGV driver pay that I’ve created from Adzuna data (light blue) – more about that in a minute. Although I’ve not included diesel on the graph, you can’t talk about road transport without talking about diesel. It was actually quite low priced when the TEG was running under the driver pay index before, during 2020, because of lockdowns and low demand due to the pandemic, but that is certainly not the case now.

So, the HGV driver pay index. The data comes from a portal Adzuna is currently developing – it contains all sorts of info related to jobs that have been advertised. I’ve taken the annual salary nearest the middle of each month and only included roles in the logistics sector that required an HGV licence, so excluding engineering and other roles. I also excluded entry level roles to avoid any distortion from the current large number of training ads. I then converted those salaries to an index base of 100 at the start of 2019, so it’s easy to compare.

Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - Teg index - haulage - Adzuna - HGV pay - inflation - Logistics Update

Haulage rates are considerably higher than they were, we can see that from the TEG index. But with a combination of driver pay remaining high, diesel very high and with the capital cost of kit significantly higher over the past year or so, I can’t believe how comparatively low the TEG haulage index is at the moment. In its latest Business Insights report, the Office for National Statistics noted that 56% of Transport & Storage businesses reported an increase in the price of materials, goods and services bought …but only 35% had passed on all or some of those increases.

Because demand is low. We know that, for example, retail food volumes have been lower recently. We know that current HGV traffic levels aren’t high but, because the DfT traffic index only started in March 2020, we don’t know what normal looks like for this time of year. We know that the ONS report had as its first key point that 20% of businesses reported their turnover decreased in March 2022 compared with February 2022, whereas only 14% reported turnover had increased.

It certainly looks as if buyers have the upper hand at the moment …even if they might not feel that to be the case!

Shopping Basket Shrinkflation

29 April 2022

Last Friday, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) released the latest retail sales figures. This was reported in the press, particularly with respect to the reduction in retail sales and the impact on the cost of living, particularly around food and fuel inflation.

Earlier last week, and before these latest figures were available, Warren Ackerman, Head of European Consumer Staples Research at Barclays, penned a piece for last week’s edition of The Grocer magazine. Commenting on the performance of some of the major brands such as Nestlé, Danone and P&G, given some of the recent price increases, wrote in a longer piece "The interesting point is so far we are not seeing much downtrading. Indeed, to the contrary the evidence is there is more uptrading to premium products, just at a time where disposable income is getting squeezed hard ...growth in out-of-home channels continues to be very strong even as retail sales for in-home food remain elevated ...Normally we would expect to see this growth in out-of-home impacting in-home food sales. This is not happening, and for as long as this continues, sector growth could remain elevated."

What we’re seeing in the graph are indices for Value at current prices (the grey line), so amount spent, and Volume (the purple line) representing quantity bought. Both these indices have a base of 100 for the year 2019, and both are seasonally adjusted. We can see that with some small variations, volume and value followed a not dissimilar path month by month for 2019. In 2020 Covid hit, and both the volume and value rose sharply, and then for the next year or so followed an erratic path, erratic but pretty much in step with each other. For the past year the lines on the graph have started to separate, gradually at first and now very clearly. I’ve been a bit naughty with this graph as the y-axis doesn’t start at anything like zero, but I’ve done this to emphasise the story - the headline is that as food retail sales do start to see a reduction, the amount of product in average shopping baskets is falling dramatically.

Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - food - value - volume - retail sales - inflation - Retail Update

The combination of these figures and that opinion piece in The Grocer, suggests to me that there are two quite different stories going on here. The Barclays commentary on brands suggests that middle class households which can afford brands are continuing to shop in the same sort of manner as they have been in the recent past. Poorer households, who are more likely to be buying supermarket own ranges or shopping with the discounters, are not deciding whether to stop shopping at Waitrose or between buying the basic rather than premium item (they never were), but deciding not to buy that item at all – which fits with the comment earlier in the year from MD of Iceland, Richard Walker: “We’re starting to lose some customers to food banks or, not being overly dramatic, to hunger”. And Jack Monroe, Bootstrap Cook and campaigner against poverty, more recently: “That's not people deciding not to go to the theatre or not have legs of lamb or bottles of Champagne, that's people deciding 'we won't eat on Tuesday or Thursday this week’...”

The volume of groceries now being bought is lower than 2019. If some people are buying the same sort of amount, then others are buying much less – their shopping basket is costing more but has less items in it. This has absolutely nothing to do with eating out or going back to work in the city, this is about a very real cost of living crisis for some people. And this is before elements of producer input inflation which have yet to feed through to the consumer, and the spring-loaded energy uplift this month, which has yet to make its way into official figures.

Ecommerce, profitability & inflation

28 March 2022

February is a good time to get a feeling of how things are really doing in ecommerce. Because it tends to be the lowest month, it’s the least confusing when looking at trends and it’s also without the hype of Christmas and other holiday-related activity.

What this graph is showing is the average weekly internet sales from February 2015 to last month, split into non-store retailing in red (think Amazon), non-food stores in blue (think John Lewis, Boohoo…) and food stores in green (think Tesco) - these are based on the ONS figures released on Friday.

I’ve then added a trendline for each based on recent Februarys up to and including February 2018, showing where each category might have gone pre-Covid. We can see that 2019 and 2020 were pretty much on the trend line and then, as we all know, the impact of the pandemic has been to raise the game for home shopping.

A straightforward projection of these trend lines would imply that internet sales for both non-store retailing (red) and predominantly non-food stores (blue) have already reached the sorts of levels they might have expected at this time of year in 2025. Predominantly food stores (green), have already reached in February 2022 what might have been expected in about 2031.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - ONS - Bain & Co - internet sales - grocery ecommerce - profitability - inflation - Retail Update

However, we can all see from the graph that the more recent trend for food appears to be on a downward trajectory, which certainly fits with my own behaviour - despite subscribing to the delivery service, I’m visiting stores more often and finding online ordering a) a bit uninspiring and b) more difficult to plan around as we all get out & about more and our lives become less routine. Back in 2020, a report from Bain & Co forecast that 35%–45% of the spending surge (not specifically UK) would survive the easing of lockdown measures.

But the big issue for ecommerce/home delivery, particularly for food and grocery, remains profitability, with the Bain report indicating that even with delivery charges, ‘traditional’ methods of grocery home delivery are not profitable.

And now there’s inflation. The figures in the graph are for value not volume and, while we’ve all been able to get away with ignoring inflation while it was low, this needs to be taken into account. Revisiting the profitability equation, baskets will start reducing in both size and quality as the customer becomes squeezed, and the supermarkets will also be impacted on the cost side by increased bills including fuel.

It’s only because of Covid...

18 January 2022

It’s only because of Covid that we can now see the extent to which the passenger element distorted the Transport & Storage vacancy information, for those of us who are only really interested in logistics!

So what can you see in the graph? The green line shows vacancies in Transport & Storage - earlier today, the ONS published its latest info on vacancies, which is divvied up by traditional sector, so Transport & Storage includes things like transport by pipeline, bulk storage of agricultural produce, the national archives… along with passenger transport.

The grey line shows a more recently available measure of job adverts for Transport / Logistics / Warehouse and is more aligned to our interpretation of ‘logistics’. This data is also via the ONS, which has been publishing indices of job adverts using Adzuna data – I’ve used the deduplicated version in the graph, as the same advert can appear on an employer’s website as well as via recruitment agencies. Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - Vacancies - Job Ads - ONS - Adzuna - Logistics Update

We can see that although these two measures were not aligned during 2019 and at the start of 2020, since the pandemic started, and many passenger transport operations across all modes became affected by reduced trade, the alignment is quite marked. Unsurprisingly, other elements of Transport & Storage seem to have dropped out leaving just logistics.

Couple of other things to note. The Transport & Storage figures are for rolling quarters, which I’ve aligned with the middle month eg the latest figure of 56K vacancies is for Oct-Dec, which I’ve aligned with November. And I’ve taken the job advert index for the date closest to the middle of each month.

However, just because we have that figure of 56K vacancies, doesn’t give us the level of vacancies in logistics as we also need to bear in mind that many logistics jobs are not in the Transport & Storage sector, but in warehouses and transport operations classified as belonging to retailers, manufacturers etc. If you asked me to make a guestimate, I’d probably go for c130K vacancies across logistics operations in November just gone.

When we recover from Covid's impact, and passenger transport operations are back to normal, we will probably be better off using the Adzuna ads as a guide, rather than the traditional Transport & Storage figures, as we can see from 2019 that there is no particular pattern to the uplift. The Adzuna data is also more quickly available, hence being included in the ONS economic real-time indicators.

Van values

21 December 2021

Unlike most of my posts, this graph hasn’t been created by me, but came from the Commercial Fleet website in the summer. I was really struck by it, so I was interested when Motor Transport’s Cost Tables for 2021 were published last week that while both capital costs and residuals, whether you’re looking at artics or vans, have risen, the residuals for vans have risen nothing like as much as we’re seeing on that graph.

I guess there are a number of potential conclusions you could draw. Five year old vans may not have risen in price to the extent of younger ones. The sort of operators who buy new could be playing it on the safe side, not wanting to count any chickens before they hatch and to cover all costs in the meantime. Perhaps the additional profit is being created by the leasing and auction companies rather than the operators.

What we do know is that there was nothing like the same number of new LCV registrations last year compared with the annual figure for the previous five, only about 80%: And based on the November YTD figures, 2021 is likely to be at the bottom end of those previous five. So perhaps that rise in prices for second-hand vans is a one-off phenomenon?

Solera Cap HPI - used vans - second hand prices - 21 December 2021 - Logistics statistics

TEG Road Transport Index

4 November 2021

I love a good graph, so when the new TEG Road Transport Index came along, I had to have a look! The graph is from Transport Exchange Group’s website.

Looking at the graph, you can see the December peak for past 2 years. You can see the impact of the first lockdown reflected in April 2020 when the price of courier vehicles rose, while haulage went down. Haulage then ran below its 2019 rates for the whole of 2020, including over Christmas. In early 2021, the price index was again running low, so no surprise that no-one was recruiting at this point...

And then the tsunami-like increase – breaking out of any previous pattern from March 2021 onwards, with prices just getting higher and higher, and with haulage and courier separating late Spring/summer 2021. And now the dip in October.

As I’ve already commented, although this is a ‘price index’, based on ppm, it is influenced by a number of factors: Underlying cost changes; Availability/capacity of the market; and Demand for the service. And it’s how those elements impact and the result that interests me.

It’s no surprise that the price of diesel is a key influencer – if you compare the TEG Road Transport Index with the pump price of diesel at the midpoint of each month and look at R-squared in Excel, it’s 0.495 for haulage. For those that don’t know what R-squared means, if it was 1 it would mean there was perfect correlation, but if 0 it would mean the relationship was totally random. So, the haulage index is significantly (but by no means completely) impacted by the price of diesel.

The index is also significantly affected by demand. In its real-time economic indicators, the ONS has an index for traffic levels based on DfT camera data. This index started in March 2020. If you ignore the first four months (when we were all adjusting to the pandemic), and in this case compare the ONS index for the Wednesday that’s nearest to the midpoint of the month, the R-squared for the TEG Road Transport Index for courier vehicles compared with ONS light commercial traffic is 0.6012 – so, as with diesel, there is significant, but not complete, correlation.

Crucially, what we can see, if you go about halfway down this page and select HGVs, light commercials etc, is a slight drop off in traffic levels more recently, explaining the lower prices reflected in the TEG Road Transport Index.

Driver pay will also have been an element contributing to the rise from Spring 2021 onwards, but it looks as if potential over-heating of transport rates is now abating, although in the logistics industry we’re all aware of the various supply chain issues that still exist, so there may yet be further pent up demand.

Kirsten was quoted, along with the Governor of the Bank of England in this piece in the Daily Mail, among many others.

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Index - haulage - courier - diesel - traffic - 4 November 2021 - Logistics statistics

Money makes the world go round

26 October 2021

From very early in my career I’ve always been very conscious of both supplier payment and cashflow and I’ve been thinking about writing a fresh piece on cashflow for a while, because there must be real pressures on some hauliers right now, with costs like wages and diesel rising, while at the same time the issues with getting money into the business continue.

News of Missguided’s current financial issues draws attention to how changes in money flows, in part down to rising shipping costs and stock shortages, can really impact. In this case, it appears, that there have been pressures from both directions: outgoings have risen, but the ability to get income in has also been reduced. And there must be companies that are getting into difficulty because they have cash tied up in stock.

Meanwhile, in the past week or so, there’s been a news piece on CIPS website about the need to protect small businesses, Terry Corby, chairman of Good Business Pays (GBP) was quoted saying that the law needs to be strengthened after GBP found only four FTSE 350 companies paid suppliers within 30 days.

So, I’ve been thinking about writing a fresh piece, but I realise I’ve said a lot of it before in a Viewpoint in Motor Transport back in 2009, so no point in writing it all again, might as well just let you read that!

Job ads - perfect storm & feeding frenzy!

25 August 2021

Anyone who takes an interest in the economy and looks at the regular ‘real time’ indicators on the Office for National Statistics website (section 6 via link) can’t help but to have been struck by the extent of job adverts in the logistics and transport sector, with ONS having to rescale the graphs back in June to accommodate the enormous increase!

However, anyone who works in logistics can’t have helped being struck by February not being the best base to use as an index for our industry.

So, what is my graph showing? ONS has been accessing job advert numbers via Adzuna, an online job search engine that collates information from thousands of different sources in the UK. I’ve downloaded a data set from ONS that goes back to 2018 and through to about a fortnight ago. I’ve shown the job adverts for our industry (transport, logistics, warehousing), shown by the continuous purple line, and those for the UK as a total, shown by the continuous blue line.

Continued below graph...)

Aricia Update - Adzuna job adverts - vacancies - ONS - 25 August 2021 - Logistics Statistics

The ONS data uses an index in which February 2020 acts as a base line for measuring increases and decreases in activity. February 2020 is roughly when Covid hit the country and ahead of the first lockdown. February 2020 = 100 – the first of my bright pink rings going left to right across the graph, and the blue dotted line drawing attention to that level across the whole time period shown. A value of 90 would mean that there were less job adverts than the base line and a value of 110 would mean that there were 10% more adverts.

You can see that the need to advertise for logistics staff varies a great deal more than UK plc, and that a typical level of adverts for logistics has been 85% higher at peak than it has been in February for both years before Covid got going – this level is shown by the purple dotted line.

In February 2020 the level of adverts was typical for our industry for February, but that’s not a typical level of adverts for our industry across the normal year.

Between February and May 2020, as Covid bit, logistics job ads dropped in line with the rest of the UK – see the second of the pink rings on the graph. For the UK as a whole, job ads were at about a third in May of what they had been in February. For logistics, job ads in May were only a sixth of what they had been the previous peak. So, it’s no surprise that as things relaxed and ‘eat out to help out’ encouraged people to come out of their houses in the summer and spend, the number of job ads started to rise and by the autumn had exceeded the previous peak levels.

But what’s very clear is that few people in logistics saw what was coming post-Brexit, and with IR35 and further relaxation of Covid restrictions thrown into the mix. By mid-January 2021, shown by the third pink ring on the graph, job ads in our industry had dropped back to normal post-peak levels, albeit above the level of ads across the rest of UK plc. Since then, the increases in job ads in logistics have been enormous - I don’t like hyperbole like ‘stratospheric’, but somehow ‘enormous’ doesn’t really do justice to what has happened!

By mid-April 2021 job ads in logistics had beaten the figure for peak 2020, which in itself was higher than both the previous peaks. By late June it was 50% higher than for peak 2020 as a combination of hospitality, staycations, the school holidays and logistics staff's own holidays all started to create a perfect storm.

The ONS uses this data to act as a proxy for vacancies, and has done its best to de-duplicate this data – the Adzuna data is from thousands of different sources, so it includes multiple instances of the same job - it collates direct employers’ websites to recruitment software providers to traditional job boards thus providing a comprehensive view of current online job adverts.

But I’m left wondering whether the job adverts for our industry, which has been so dependent on agencies to fill roles at peak and often at other times, include hidden duplication. How obvious is it if Agency 1 and Agency 2 both advertise generally, knowing that by being first to recruit an extra driver they will get some extra business. While at the same time, the end company may well also be advertising if it is a permanent role. Has the de-duplication managed to address multiple companies essentially advertising the same role and contributing to the feeding frenzy?

While there are plainly many, many vacancies, I guess where my train of thought ends up is that job adverts may not be a good indicator of vacancy levels for an industry so dependent on agencies.

More Sitting Bull than Whale!

28 December 2020

The Motor Transport Top 100 for 2020 was published recently and, having written a piece about the Whale graph for SHD Logistics, also published in December, I thought I’d apply the same sort of analysis.

I put the 100 companies in order of percentage pre-tax profitability (on the x-axis) against the cumulative pre-tax profit of the Top 100 on the y-axis - what emerges is not so much whale as sitting bull! What emerges is that 80% of the Top 100 made all the profit, and the remaining 20% eroded it. 80% of those companies made £860m profit, but the remaining 20% then lost over £400m to end up with an overall profit for the Top 100 of just over £450m. Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - Motor Transport - Top 100 - profit - 28 December 2020 - Logistics Statistics

Just one company has been solely responsible for over 50% of the losses, Eddie Stobart, which has since received financing from Dbay. Three of the other four companies that made more than 10% loss, have since collapsed or changed hands.

It’s not clear whether rates weren’t in line with market values or whether costs got away from rates – assuming the former, it looks like the company should have been charging about a third more for its services if it wanted to make the average pre-tax profit of the profit-making companies which, incidentally, is less than the 5% profit (that’s pre-tax profit!) suggested by Motor Transport’s cost tables published in the same issue.

Motor Transport makes the point that “The figures for this year’s Top 100 come mainly from companies’ 2019 accounts and so are not affected by the Covid-19 crisis”, but also that “One clear impact of Covid-19 is that fact that a few companies have been slower than normal to file their latest accounts at Companies House.”. I have queried, with Motor Transport, Royal Mail’s UK arm’s pre-tax profit being put in at exactly zero (I’m always suspicious of very round numbers!), but I’d be the first to say that I don’t envy the person who has to create the Top 100 each year, extracting all that data from annual reports.

Is this why people don't work as HGV drivers?

8 December 2020

Yesterday the Office for National Statistics published some estimates from its Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). I've combined two of the many data sets in the diagram below. What are the boxes in the diagram all about? It's my attempt to show the span of hours and span of pay for most full time employees working in the UK as a whole and for some specific occupations. See below the diagram for a description of how to read it.

Aricia Update Diagram - ASHE - Annual Survey of Hours & Earnings - 8 December 2020 - ONS - Hours - Wages - Logistics Statistics

On the x-axis is paid hours worked per week - the span of each box goes from the figure for the 10th percentile through to the 90th - if we look at the red box for the UK as a whole, it means that 80% of employees work somewhere in that span of hours (so it excludes the extremes at each end). And the y-axis shows gross weekly pay, and again the span runs from the 10th to 90th percentiles, so that 80% of employees get paid somewhere in that span. It's important to note that it will be a different 80% for the x and y elements of each box, but there will be a broad overlap.

Note the red spot which marks both median hours and median pay - so 50% of employees in the UK work less paid hours per week and 50% of employees get less gross weekly pay than indicated by the spot. You can see that FLT drivers are virtually all working more hours than the UK average, and that HGV drivers work considerably more!

NB ASHE covers employee jobs in the United Kingdom - it does not cover the self-employed, nor does it cover employees not paid during the reference period. Hourly and weekly estimates are provided for the pay period that included a specified date in April. They relate to employees on adult rates of pay, whose earnings for the survey pay period were not affected by absence. Estimates for 2020 include employees who have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The forklift truck driver entry is described as an estimate as the ONS has not tried to estimate the 90th percentile for either pay or hours - I have based them on the other storage occupation shown.

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Whopping increase!

22 May 2020

While in many ways no surprise, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures published earlier today do demonstrate just what an increase some elements of business have had to accommodate, with weekly internet sales up by a third on April last year and representing 30% of total retail sales for the first time. April is the first complete post-lockdown month and, although Easter can be a confuser in analysing Spring, it fell in April in both cases.

Non-store retailing, or Pure Play, still by far the largest proportion, up 19% against 2019 (on my graph below, purple is April 2019 sales in £m with red representing the additional sales for April 2020). Food and household goods combined up a whopping 91% - household goods stores had the larger increase, more than doubling, but 'predominantly food stores' is the larger element, up 84%. I've also combined non-specialised and other stores, both showing healthy increases.

Clothing is the only element on my graph that needs more explaining - the April 2019 sales go right to the top of that bar, including the purple border, with the red hashed area representing the decline, the drop back, to April 2020 sales. Poor old clothing, the only category showing a decline - of more than 20%.

So no real surprise that the news is about Marks & Spencer taking £1bn worth of actions to manage cash.

Aricia Update - Internet Sales - Food - Clothing - ONS - Retail Statistics

No driver shortage at the moment

4 April 2020

Well, this is a different sort of an update for the different sort of time we live in. No stats or graph, more of a blog, but very relevant to the logistics industry.

Coronavirus gets going and everyone is panic buying – the grown-ups make a fuss about people shopping, telling people it’s unnecessary. But the concept of the need to feed the nation is born, with drivers hours regs relaxed to accommodate. My husband who has an up to date CE licence and medical, but let his DCPC expire in September, feels that he ought to be available to help this push to get food to where it needs to be. So he books a DCPC course starting Monday 23 March.

We get up two mornings running at 4.30am for him to be early for a 7.30 start on the other side of the Cotswolds. First day (long story – we’re not stupid and we did our best on Saturday on the web and by phone), he doesn’t find it until c8am and is told that he and another latecomer can’t join the course. So he comes home. That evening Johnson makes an announcement, but no-one from the training rings to say it’s not going ahead, so we have another 4.30am get up – this time there are three of them hanging around in the street – the trainer never appears, doesn’t ring...

At this point we’re £450 down and the company that he booked the course through are refusing to refund his money. After a bit of argy bargy, they do get him booked on the first-ever internet-based driver CPC course, and so we spent the whole of last week with our home office given up to all-day all-week Zoom-based training.

We’d agreed that because of my husband’s age (he’s not 'old', but if he catches Coronavirus, they won’t consider reviving him a high priority on the basis of his birth certificate!), he was only going to drive if it involved foods, pharmaceuticals etc – things that were really necessary.

So what’s the point of telling you this – well, there’s certainly no driver shortage at the moment. There’s certainly no excuse for further relaxation of the drivers hours regs. He rang one of the local agencies during the week – there’s no driving work of any kind. End of.

HS2, Northern Powerhouse, Maptitude demographic data & heatmaps

24 January 2020

Among other analytic and visualisation tools, I use Maptitude - mapping/GIS software. I post Maptitude tips on our website and tweet them - always aiming to have three across a variety of features. Today I thought I'd share the tweet from this week with Linkedin. It wasn't a new tip but the result of using a current tip (at the time of writing!): how to turn area census-type data into points, so you can do a heatmap.

The heatmap shows 'overheated' London. But also, given discussion about HS2, population density in Midlands and NorthernPowerhouse - demonstrating the importance of the E-W corridor as well as N-S.

Aricia Update - HS2 - Northern Powerhouse - Maptitude - Mapping - GIS - demographics - heatmap

Is the genie out of the bottle?

19 July 2019

The news from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) earlier this week was that the overall Transportation and storage index provided the largest upward contribution to the annual rate for the SPPI* for Q2 2019. The graph below shows the SPPI for All Services at Gross Sector level (Dark Blue - general inflation for business services) and the indices for Freight Transport by Road (bright pink), Storage and Warehousing (green), Cargo Handling (lilac) and Freight Forwarding (grey).

I usually look at a five year period, but the timing of this release of statistics made it seem appropriate to look at the three years immediately before and after the Brexit vote, and so I’ve included six years on this occasion, with the dark grey vertical line representing the timing of the Brexit vote exactly halfway through that period.

Not all the elements that make up the overall transport and storage index follow the patterns shown on the graph – some have been quite flat over the six years, others have gone up and up, and there are also passenger transport elements as well as logistics. What I’ve chosen here are some key logistics indexes that had relatively flat inflation prior to the Brexit vote, followed by increased inflation afterwards. NB Freight forwarding is often said to be countercyclical.

These indices will be affected by all sorts of things including stockpiling and other contingency measures, and increased cost of attracting staff, with the effect of exchange rates on the worth of sterling and people just not feeling like the UK is so appealing as somewhere to work and live, being part of the mix. But is the inflation genie now out of the bottle? Food for thought!

Aricia Update - ONS - SPPI - transport - storage - road freight - brexit - logistics statistics

*The Service Producers Price Index is a bit like the CPI - it shows the increase in prices and rates paid, but for services provided by businesses to other businesses and government. It provides a measure of inflation for the UK service sector with individual price indices, such as Freight Transport by Road, aggregated to create an all-services industry index. The ONS says that the services sector is estimated to account for around 80% of the UK economy based on its weight in gross domestic product (GDP), and that the SPPI is estimated to represent 59% of the total services sector.

The Pressure Cooker

20 February 2019

Bit of a different update - a personal story: I'm going to talk about cooking the books.

What do the Tesco accounting scandal and M&S 1Bn profit have in common with my first proper role in logistics? Pressure to improve the figures.

Towards the end of last month, Carl Rogberg was cleared of master-minding fraud. He was cleared along with the two other Tesco directors, but the fact remains that, in what has been described as a culture of pressure back in 2014, payments from suppliers were being manipulated to make the finances look healthier than they were.

I was interested that, in all the reporting, little mention was made of similar situations in other companies. Because I worked for the company, my own mind immediately jumped to M&S in the latter half of the 1990s.

Towards the end of Rick Greenbury's CEOship, when great pressure was put on all departments, and in turn on suppliers including our logistics contractors, necessary expenditure and investment was delayed and supplier profit margins were cut, as we all understood that every spare £ was going to be needed. And then the headlines: M&S made over a billion profit that year.

Now, you can put the squeeze on operations, but only until the pips squeak. When you try to squeeze year after year (at the risk of too many metaphors), you find that the well has run dry. The Wikipedia entry includes the phrase "profit margins were pushed to untenable levels". This non-strategy catches up with you and, yes, the inevitable happened – M&S profit was down dramatically.

So what do these national stories have in common with my first logistics role? I had been a graduate management trainee with NFC (National Freight Corporation – now part of DP DHL), and as part of that training had learned all about how NFC managed its finances, with every contract running its own P&L.

My first role after training was as deputy manager of a DC. The manager was leaving the company and the existing deputy manager was being promoted, but rather than taking on the same activities as the previous senior manager, our roles were in some respects reversed because of my understanding of the company’s administration. So I was responsible for the finances.

The first time it fell to me to do the monthly provisions /accruals, the area general manager, who was based elsewhere, checked my confidence levels. I said I was pretty confident I knew what I was doing, but I was going to take it all home and work on it quietly over the weekend.

I couldn’t wait for Monday to come round! It had gone really badly. The contract had been gently profitable up to now, but my weekend exercise had ended up showing a loss. So I drove over to see the area manager and we pored over my figures. They were right. The contract was making a loss.

There was a big fuss and hoo-hah, and one of the directors became involved: had someone been fraudulent? Well, not for themselves I was able to reply - no-one had actually walked out the door with any cash. This was down to genuine invoice payments being spread over too long a period. So a bit of a shock, and it left the issue of lack of profitability, but all out in the open and all apparently understood …until the following week.

In NFC we had to submit what were called ‘Quicks’ every week – a quick version of the P&L for that week. No PCs in those days – you rang your quicks through to your area manager, and they were consolidated for the area and rung through to head office. I reported a small loss that was commensurate with what had been shown by my previous exercise. The area manager immediately said that was no good and told me what figure he needed me to report (a profit). I wouldn’t. But at that point I could immediately understand why the finances had got into a mess and why the previous manager had left. He’d given in to being bullied and couldn't see a way out.

Now, returning to my reply to the director, I realised that because we were all bonused on the profit that was made, my answer had the potential to be not entirely correct, because if anyone had been paid bonus on those adjusted accounts, that would have been fraud. Money would have gone out the door.

My takeaway from this story is that you need to be extremely careful not to exert undue pressure on those below you. Some people prefer an easy life, and although you may not ever have intended them to be influenced to the extent of doing wrong, that can be the result.

And you need to be extremely careful about how people, including (particularly?) those at senior levels are incentivised.