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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.


WTF?

16 November 2022

That was my husband’s reaction from the other side of the desk when he saw this graph, so do bear with me as I describe it! What the graph is showing is the annual rate of change of various price indices = inflation. Read on, below the graph...

Aricia Update - Inflation - CPI - PPI - SPPI - ONS - TEG - Road haulage - Logistics Statistics

I’m going to run down the legend describing each trace:

  • The solid lines are from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) data release made by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier today – the pink one is the headline rate of inflation which rose to 11.1%, and the green solid line is food inflation which has risen to 16.2%
  • The lines with the larger dashes are from the ONS Producer Price Index (PPI), also out today – the lighter brown one, output, represents inflation in the prices that manufacturers sell their goods and the darker brown one, input, represents inflation in the prices that manufacturers are buying in the various ‘ingredients’, materials, energy etc that they need to make those goods
  • Next come the finer dotted lines, which are from the ONS Services Producer Price Index (SPPI) showing inflation in the prices for various services provided by UK businesses – the lilac one is for all services other than financial and the light blue one is for Freight Transport by Road
  • Lastly, the lines with the smaller dashes are from the TEG index, showing inflation in spot rates paid for road transport through Transport Exchange Group’s platforms – the grey line is for the overall index, the yellowish line is for courier bookings and the darker blue for hauliers

The only figures which aren’t monthly are those for the SPPI, which are quarterly (more useful for historians than strategists?), which seems odd when the service industries now account for 79% of total UK economic output (Gross Value Added) and 82% of employment. Anyway, I’ve plotted them in the middle month of each quarter.

I’ve marked the grid line that represents zero (the point at which prices aren’t going up or down) as a thicker black line – any trace above that line represents inflation, any below is deflation. The graph starts at the beginning of 2020 and goes through to October 2022 – because the TEG index started in 2019, the first year-on-year inflation figures that can be calculated are January 2020.

While no-one is pretending that the inflation on manufacturing inputs (the dark brown dashed line) is low at 19.2%, we can see signs now of some inflation measures starting to come down.

The darker blue dashed line showing road haulage spot rates is the most interesting (at least to me!) and is the most volatile of those. It was already in slight deflation in February 2020 which then became deeper as Covid hit and many businesses didn’t require any goods to be moved. Road haulage spot rates then remained in year-on-year deflation for more than a year, before breaking through the zero line and rising dramatically to the highest level of inflation among the indices shown on the graph. That rise was fuelled by diesel prices, the economy opening up, staycations, lack of resource… There was then a long decline in inflation rates (which means that prices were still going up, but not as fast), until eventually prices started falling earlier this year.

They say that transport is a leading indicator. While the TEG road haulage rates ostensibly tell us about price per mile being paid, when that falls year-on-year while diesel prices continue to be inflationary, it also tells us that there is reduced demand for that service. So while, from a consumer point of view, we all have to hope that deflation in road haulage is leading the way, we can also deduce that there is continued slowdown in the economy in October, beyond the GDP figures currently published – not good news.

And, if I can help you with any projects, big or small, where you need support: please get in touch!

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.

Thought-provoking.

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.

Courier price indices

7 November 2022

With Black Friday coming up later this month, and the SPPI* for Q3 published by the ONS recently, I make no apologies for having another look at the TEG** courier index, this time graphing it against one of the postal and courier elements of the SPPI.

What the graph below shows is the non-Royal Mail courier element of the SPPI as the continuous orange line, positioned at the middle month of each quarter and brought back to a base of 100 at the start of 2019. The courier element of the TEG index is shown in as lighter dotted line.

I chose the start of 2019 for the rebase of the SPPI, so it matched the start of the TEG index and at a point we all considered relatively normal. But, as I’ve said before, deciding when to start a comparison is always a difficult choice.

The SPPI will include contractual as well as non-contractual rates and is quarterly, whereas the TEG index is for spot rates and monthly. So we see much more variation in the TEG index, whereas the SPPI gives a more gentle overview of the general direction of rates, even though it is not seasonally-adjusted.

We can see that the SPPI was pretty flat up to Q3 in 2020, with a small rise in Q4 2020 that could have been interpreted as seasonal. But since then, it has just kept on going up. After a dramatic period of inflation in Q4 last year, we can see that it has then started, very gradually, to level off at a very high inflation rate of over 14.5% year on year.

So what can the TEG Courier index tell us? The reduction in October tells us little (it always seems to dip at this time of year, prior to peaking, as one might expect, in December). But the TEG courier index is now showing inflation of <5%, down from a high of over 18% when the economy was over-heating in H2 2021. Unfortunately, any inflation is on top of any previous increases (shed-loads on shed-loads), but the good news for users and consumers is that the increases are reducing in size!

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Price Index - Courier - ONS - SPPI - Logistics Update

*The SPPI (Services Producer Price Inflation) is a quarterly index published by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) which is the result of a statutory survey, measuring changes in the price received for selected services provided by UK businesses. The Universal Service Provider for postal services in the UK is the Royal Mail. Plainly there are plenty of independent courier and parcels services, and it is the rates for these that the element of the SPPI that I’ve used in this graph monitors - the two most recent points are provisional figures.

**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 index is made up of both courier and haulage, with the courier element shown on the graph.

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

Inflation AND deflation

3 August 2022

The SPPI* with its Freight by Road index for 2022 Q2 came out in the latter half of July and earlier today the TEG** Road Transport Price Index was published – a more frequent and timely indicator. What the graph shows is the SPPI, dark blue line, positioned at the middle month of each quarter and brought back to a base of 100 at the start of 2019. The haulage element of the TEG index is shown in light blue.

I chose the start of 2019 for the rebase of the SPPI, so it matched the start of the TEG index and at a point we all considered relatively normal. But deciding when to start a comparison is always a difficult choice, and sometimes controversial - think about headlines like “XYZ the highest since records began” …oh, but by the way, records only started last year!

So not too much should be read into the comparison of any particular month or quarter, but what we can see looking at TEG haulage on the graph is the impact of peak each year and the start of Covid on spot rates. And then, at this time a year ago, the extreme impact of the opening up of the economy with staycations etc, combined with all the difficulties around keeping drivers on the road and finding enough resource.

The SPPI, being both quarterly and including contract work, is a less volatile index. While the TEG has come down in Q1 this year to a similar level to the SPPI again, the SPPI itself is showing increasing inflation with 11.4% year-on-year increase in Q2. Diesel inflation was *only* about 37% at the mid-point of Q2, where it was 46% by mid-July. And then there’s increased driver pay to consider.

Meanwhile, the haulage element of the TEG index is now into its second month of year-on-year deflation - that current drop has to point to substantially reduced demand, which in itself is the result of previous increases in costs and prices. They say that money makes the world go round, but it can also slow it down when it isn’t there!

Aricia Update - TEG Index - SPPI - Haulage - Freight by Road - Costs - Logistics Update

*The SPPI (Services Producer Price Index) is a quarterly index published by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) which is the result of a statutory quarterly survey, which measures changes in the price received for selected services provided by UK businesses. The two most recent points on the graph are provisional figures.

**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 index is made up of both courier and haulage, with the haulage element shown on the graph – the SPPI includes separate figures for Postal & courier and does provide an index which excludes the Royal Mail element, so perhaps I’ll do a post on that in three months’ time!

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

2022: the year of courier rates

7 July 2022

If 2021 was the year of haulage running hot, 2022 is the turn of courier rates.

The TEG Road Transport Price Index is out today, and the courier element of the index is now only a fraction off what it was at peak in 2021, and that peak 2021 figure is the record since the start of the index in January 2019.

The current year on year inflation in courier spot rates is 7.4%, on top of 12.9% in June last year. But that’s the thing with inflation – it’s not just a one-off figure in isolation, the inflation you see now is on top of previous inflation.

What this graph is showing is the seasonal profile of courier spot rates. 2019 (green) represents ‘normality’ and 2020 (red) was the first year of the pandemic, not actually that dissimilar. 2021 (lilac) then breaks out of that mould, with fast rising prices, and in 2022 (orange), prices started higher than the start of 2021 and, since February, have just carried on rising. You can see that the June courier index is just short of 125, where December 2021 was just over.

Now, I know that not all courier work is internet related, but now seems to be an interesting time to be able to push rates up so much. Interesting, as the Office for National Statistics reported that internet sales were down 7.9% year on year in May with much larger reduction in, for instance, household goods. It’s important to point out those internet sales are for the month before the latest courier figure you’re seeing on the graph, as one of the great things about the TEG index is the extent to which it’s ahead of the official statistics.

But if you have a look at all the TEG indexes over the past three and a half years, you will see that courier rates didn’t really keep up with haulage rates during peak last year, so you could argue that there might be a bit of catching up with big brother, particularly with the price of fuel continuing to rise and rise.

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Price Index - Courier - Spot rates - 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.

Contrary movement

9 March 2022

The annual inflation in spot rates as shown by the TEG Road Transport Price Index was at its highest in September last year and, while continuing to be high, is reducing. It can be seen from the graph that the rate of increase in December 2021 was lower than in other years and, although still at a completely different level to previous years, the rate of decrease at the start of this year is sharper.

I had been toying with the idea that you could largely account for the changes in spot rates for road transport based on three factors:

  • The price of diesel obviously forms a substantial element of the cost of running a truck and, to a lesser extent, a van
  • The logistics element of the Adzuna job advert index from the Office for National Statistics economic real-time indicators – as a proxy for staff shortages including drivers
  • Traffic levels for both HGV and light commercials, also from the ONS real-time indicators, again as a proxy – this time for demand

Apparently not, as these all moved in one direction, while the TEG index went the opposite way!

Fuel prices went up in February, and mid-month logistics job adverts and commercial traffic levels went up compared with January …while the TEG Road Transport Price Index went down. That movement of the TEG index wasn’t wholly unexpected as that’s what it’s done in the last three years, the period for which the data has been published.

Continued below graph...

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Price Index - ONS - Adzuna - Jobs Adverts - Diesel - Demand - February - Logistics Update

However ...I’ve recently had access to a portal that Adzuna is in the process of developing, which allows you to drill down into the data. Job adverts across logistics functions including warehousing may have gone up in February, but vacancies for people with HGV licences working in logistics (as opposed to various other sectors such as engineering and maintenance) went down by about 15% from January levels. So my theory may yet be vindicated but need some refinement!

The Adzuna site also has information on average salaries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pay for those HGV drivers working in logistics has also gone down a little. Going back to those spot prices, the TEG index for February has another interesting twist, with the Haulage element falling below Courier vehicles. As I’ve sometimes said before, while not wanting to pay over the odds, we also need to be careful that we don’t let the quiet time of year mean that we move backwards with respect to HGV driver numbers.

The demographics are against us...

8 February 2022

The headline in this morning's CIPS email was a bit shocking: Logistics sector on 'cliff edge' as it faces 400,000 labour shortfall.

But the demographics are against us - not just in logistics, but in the UK generally. And Covid has made it worse. Back in January the BBC carried an article which asked: Where are Britain's missing million workers? It explained that Covid has meant some older people took earlier retirement than they might previously have planned, and some younger people stayed in education longer than they might have otherwise done.

My picture uses a population pyramid from the ONS also published in January. I've shown it twice and drawn on different green lines demonstrating what two different scenarios for working age might have looked like on the 2020 version (so ignore the frilly line for 2030 and just look at the bars and my green lines).

You can see that for the first one, with the lines drawn at 16 and 64 the number of people joining and leaving the working age population are about the same. But in the second version, with the lines drawn at 20 and 60, not only are there less people in the band, but the number leaving the working age population will be growing, and at the same time the number entering for the next couple of years will be declining.

It's also worth noting that logistics isn't gender-balanced and there are actually two sides to each of the population pyramids!

Aricia Update - Demographics - Working Population - Logistics Update

A game of two halves

19 January 2022

You’ll have seen in the news already today headlines about the CPI, the Consumer Price Index, such as “Inflation: Cost of living rises at fastest pace for 30 years”.

The ONS also publishes the PPI, the Producer Price Index, which reports on changes in the prices of goods bought and sold by UK manufacturers, and once a quarter (earlier today), the SPPI, the Services Producer Price Index, which includes figures for inflation for various elements in the Transport & Storage Sector. The main graph shows how prices for all these elements have changed over the past year.

You can see that there’s the odd area, such as postal services, where prices have apparently gone down over the year, and areas with quite striking levels of inflation, the most striking of which are Other Transportation Support Services and the snappily named Warehousing and Support Services For Transportation.

The detailed description of Other Transportation Support Activities includes a number of lines, starting with “Forwarding of Freight” and including “Activities of Customs Agents”, so hardly surprising (without mentioning the B-word) that element has risen the most over the past year.

Freight Transport Services by Road looks very conservative in the main graph at 3.2% increase over the whole year, and indeed is less than the SPPI as a whole at 3.6%. But have a look at the inset graph which shows this element quarter by quarter since the start of 2019 to see how looking at the whole of 2021 just isn’t telling the whole story. It really is a game of two halves.

Aricia Update - Inflation - Road Freight - ONS - SPPI - Logistics Update

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.

Hang onto your drivers!

11 January 2022

That road freight pricing is dependent on driver availability might sound obvious, but the TEG Road Transport Price Index emphasises the extent to which that is the case.

The first time I was alerted to there being less truck than van drivers, was when Logistics UK’s Skills & Employment Report 2021 was released in early December. That change started in Q3 2020, but Q2 2021 is where the number of people saying they worked as HGV drivers fell to its lowest AND when van driver numbers exceeded 300K for the first time.

In this post, I’m not so interested in the price movement which is based on prices being paid for freight movements (although I am!), as the recent divergence of the haulage & courier elements of the TEG index. So what are we seeing on the graph below?

  • These price indices both start at 100 in January 2019 and show subsequent movement
  • The blue line is the haulage element and the yellow line is courier
  • The shading is to make it easy to see which is higher

I can’t offer a definite reason why the haulage element was rose more quickly than the courier element in early 2019, but in Q2 2019 fuel prices were rising quickly, although the increase was nothing like we’ve seen in 2021!

There were then 21 months where the prices for courier transport were higher in comparison, starting with substantial divergence as the pandemic got going - suddenly people needed things delivered to their homes, and equally suddenly the bottom dropped out of all sorts of more traditional markets such as high street logistics and food service.

Then, from April 2021 as prices rose, the haulier index started to run at a higher level than the courier index – closing only a small amount in November. I’m surmising that the reason for the divergence in these elements of the TEG Index (coincidentally occurring at the start of Q2 2021) was because of that change in numbers of different types of drivers.

We know that the number of HGV drivers started to pick up in late summer - the Driver Require bulletin in late November, gives the Q3 2021 HGV driver numbers as 261K. But despite that, prices have risen again in December, and the gap between the courier and haulage elements has been maintained.

So what? Well in logistics we can be pretty good at being efficient, being flexible with our resources, sometimes too efficient for our own longer term good. I guess my message is to make sure you hold onto your supply of HGV drivers during the usually quiet months of January and February, although with this year’s Omicron impact, you’re probably using them anyway!

Aricia Update - TEG Road Price Index - Driver numbers - HGV - Van - Haulier - Courier - Logistics Update

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

What did the Romans do for us?

15 December 2021

A combination of the news of the sale of Stowga and the location of the CILT Fellows Lunch are what has inspired this post.

A few years back, 2018 to be precise, Stowga did an analytical blog about the location of the logistics ‘golden triangles’ (plural) and concluded that it looked more like a partially melted ice carving of the Wolves logo!

OK that explains the Stowga connection, but what about the Fellows Lunch? The lunch this year was held in the Leonardo Royal London City hotel in Cooper’s Row which has an undercroft entrance that leads through to the back where the best bit of Roman wall in London can be found – you could see it out of the back window of the room where we had our event. Continued below picture...

Roman Wall - Coopers Row - Author: Carole Raddato

So, I can hear you ask again, what’s the connection between those two things? Well, the Romans were always there first, or at least before modern day logistics. Regardless of which golden triangle you subscribe to (the big blue one or the original tiny yellow one), right in the middle is High Cross. The significance of High Cross is that it’s where the Fosse Way crosses Watling Street – I’ve marked it on the map created in Maptitude below. Continued below map...

Aricia Update - Golden Triangle - Logistics Update

What is now the wind-swept and lonely-feeling High Cross is/was where a Roman fort was situated – Venonis, mentioned in that early version of SatNav, the Antonine Itinerary. And if you were wearing your Roman Fitbit, or whatever, you’d have known when you were getting close by checking your steps.

So if High Cross / Venonis was the centre of Roman Britain, only 5 miles down the road is the original Magna Park, a centre of (non-ecommerce) logistics ...although, as the manager of TNT Stirling used to tell us, when we got the Highlands & Islands freight to him it was only halfway there. And another 8 or so miles down the A5 is DIRFT, described in a Guardian piece by its architecture critic, as being “...within what, with unexpected romance, is called the “golden triangle”, a land of sheds, roads and marketing gerunds...”. DIRFT is in the larger blue triangle, although outside the tighter yellow one.

And another few miles down the road is Watford Gap – in the Wikipedia intro it says “Watford Gap is a low-lying area between two hills, close to the village of Watford, Northamptonshire, England. Engineers from Roman times onwards have found it to be an ideal route for connecting the Midlands with South East England. The A5 road, the West Coast Main Line railway, the M1 motorway and a branch of the Grand Union Canal traverse in parallel a space about 400 metres (1,300 ft) wide. It has been written and spoken of as marking the divide between Northern England and Southern England.” Continued (briefly!) below map from Streetmap...

Aricia Update - Logistics Update

So we have a couple of major logistics parks between a key Roman road intersection and a geographic pinchpoint that are only 16 miles apart. We think we’ve designed modern logistics, but its destiny was decided by a combination of geography and history.

Rates versus Capacity

3 December 2021

When the TEG Road Transport Price Index was released for the first time last month, I pointed out that this price index, based on price per mile, will be influenced by a number of factors: Underlying cost changes; Availability/capacity of the market; and Demand for the service. I explored the correlation between the index and the price of diesel, a key contributor to costs for both haulage and, to a lesser extent, courier vehicles. I also looked at the relationship between the index and the ONS real-time traffic indices as a proxy for demand, although this may have been constrained by capacity at really busy times.

So, my analysis of this month’s TEG Index focuses on capacity, using job ads as a proxy for vacancies and, in turn, for driver availability as it measures the gap between demand and requirement. The job ad data that the Office for National Statistics includes in its real-time economic indicators is described as “Transport / logistics / warehouse” and so, obviously, includes other roles than just drivers. The ONS sources this data from Adzuna – I’ve used the version that is ‘de-duplicated’, as Adzuna collates it from multiple different sources, and graphed the data point that is closest to the middle of each month.

What the graph below shows is that ONS job ads data (lighter blue, dotted line) on the left hand axis and the combined TEG index (darker blue, solid line) on the right hand axis, with the right hand axis positioned to best show that correlation. This isn’t a fiddle; the correlation is close with an R-squared of 0.84. 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. Cont below graph...

Aricia Update - TEG Road Transport Price Index - ONS - drivers - vacancies - job adverts - 3 December 2021 - Logistics statistics

What about cause and effect? What you can also see from the graph is that job ads seem to lead – for example, job ads rose ahead of the TEG index at peak in 2019 and 2020. But the mechanism is likely to be a complex one with some circular elements - additional drivers could result in lower rates, but higher demand leading to higher rates will attract some drivers back to the industry.

We know that driver availability has improved through a variety of factors including recent industry and government responses: the furlough scheme finished at the end of September, the government sent a letter out to HGV licence holders in October, there has been increased driver testing, DVLA have speeded up processing (40,000 HGV and vocational licence applications in just 4 weeks according to a government press release dated 8 November), the government relaxed cabotage rules for foreign hauliers from the end of October... oh, and driver pay has been improving!

I don’t agree with the relaxation of cabotage going through to end April as I believe that there is a high risk of the logistics industry not retaining drivers when there are lower demand levels in January and February - the very drivers who have been freshly attracted, or attracted back, to the industry in the run up to peak this year.

Taking Stock

29 November 2021

Over the past few months, I’ve been watching the CBI press releases on its Distributive Trades Survey with some interest, as stocks compared with expected sales broke with any previous pattern in an index which has been running since 1983. In the latest release, on Thursday last week, although distribution stocks don’t look particularly healthy overall, retail stocks were looking a lot more healthy prior to Black Friday.

It needs to be logged that this is a qualitative survey asking whether stock levels look ok for expected sales, and distribution is defined as retail + wholesale + motor trades. I’m not surprised that things have improved from what looked like a serious situation back in August - rather than my title of taking stock, it’s more like delivering stock!

Also on Thursday last week, the ONS released its latest real-time indicators publication and data including numbers of ships visiting the UK.

What you can see in the pair of graphs is the number of ships visiting Felixstowe and Dover in 2021 versus 2019. In each case 2021 (the lighter line) is on the RH axis, because the method of collecting data changed in June 2021, but what we can see in both cases is a not dissimilar pattern for the two years …until the sudden rise in the past few weeks. And not just a sudden rise against previous activity this year, but also in comparison with the shape of the graph for 2019. Cont below graph...

Aricia Update - CBI - ONS - Stock - Shipping - 29 November 2021 - Logistics statistics So I wasn’t surprised to see the improvement in the CBI retail stock figure. Reference ‘distribution’, as indicated above, this does include the motor trades, and we know that there are very low stocks of cars in dealers, with waits of up to a year right now.

Kirsten is available for logistics projects at the moment - feel free to make contact!

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!

Online grocery - up or down?

23 September 2021

On Friday the ONS (Office of National Statistics) released the latest retail sales figures, including those for online, or internet, sales. And you can see what an amazing job the retail, pureplay and logistics sectors have been delivering over the past 18 months. Non-food has gone from its annual, increasing but reasonably predictable spike (predictable if looking at the overall figures), which have stretched the parcels operations every year. Food & groceries went 'vertical' – a real achievement for operations which didn’t peak to anything like the same extent in the early years, when the number of vans and slots effectively dictated capacity, although Click & Collect is now an accepted format.

The graph below shows average weekly internet sales in £millions from the start of 2009, the first point at which the different types of product/source of sales were broken out, up to the latest data for August this year. The green line shows sales from ‘predominantly food stores’, so home deliveries from Tesco, Ocado et al – that’s shown on the left hand axis. And the grey line, which uses the right hand axis, is for everything else that you might by online from Amazon, John Lewis and all sorts of other sources and worth roughly 7x as much. What’s shown on the graph is not seasonally adjusted and is the average weekly sales shown by month – some months have 4 weeks, some 5, and there will be more variation week on week than is shown by the average, which is what is published.

In May, Mintel did that brave thing and made a forecast of where grocery online was going, forecasting a decline of 13% for 2021 when compared to 2020, as the market rebalances following extraordinary demand during the pandemic. I’m not sure that is where things are heading - since that forecast was made, sales have been down but only by about 4% so far. Mintel’s forecast for 2025 is an additional 15% on top of 2021.

Aricia Update - Internet sales - online grocery - ONS - 23 September 2021 - Retail Statistics

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.

Covid + ecom -> Automation

17 May 2021

Despite or because of Covid, the total revenue of this year's Top 20 Materials Handling Systems Suppliers continued to grow, easily topping the $25Bn mark.

There are two entries ranked as No 10 (and therefore none for No 11), there are new entries and some changes in position, but there's no point in me describing all this, when you can go straight to the oracle and read about it in Modern Materials Handling published just a few days ago!

Aricia Update - Moderns - Material Handling - Top 20 - 17 May 2021 - Logistics Statistics

Where to start?

1 February 2021

So what story shall I tell you about this data? Where to start? And that’s the crucial question!

I did a post a couple of weeks ago on Linkedin about perspective, and that’s a really appropriate word to use with relationship to this update. In December every year, Motor Transport releases its annual cost tables and, in January, the ONS released the latest SPPI data including all of 2020 - the SPPI is like the CPI but for services from businesses.

If I start the graph in 2013, as shown, with all elements starting at an index of 100, then my story is that road freight rates have ended up rising pretty much in line with the inflation rate for business expenditure as a whole, but that road freight costs, while more erratic, are down in 2020 - driven by the price of diesel. See below the graph for a description of all the elements.

Whereas if I had started the same graph in 2015 with all elements at 100, my story would be a very different one: it would be about rates rising faster than general business inflation, but not keeping abreast of costs, and with diesel at a slightly higher rate in 2020 compared with 2015.

Which story should I tell? They do say you can tell any story you like with statistics!

Aricia Update - Motor Transport - Cost Tables - SPPI - Road Freight Costs - 1 February 2021 - Logistics Statistics

This graph shows the overall pence per mile costs of running a 44T unit and triaxle trailer (dark blue, thick line), and the major constituents of diesel as pence per litre (black), driver wages & NI (light grey), and depreciation & financing for the unit & trailer (dark grey) – these are all from the Motor Transport Cost Tables. It also shows the SPPI index for Freight Transport Services by Road (light blue, thick line) and the SPPI as a whole (green). These are all shown as indices brought back to 100 in 2013 and changing up or down with inflation in subsequent years.

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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Market elasticity?

21 October 2020

Earlier today the ONS released the latest figures for the SPPI, the Service Producers Price Index. NB The SPPI is like the CPI but for expenditure made on B2B services by government and by businesses*.

Ever since I found out about the SPPI from CILT’s Knowledge Centre many moons ago, I always have a look at how road freight prices (shown on the graph below in bright pink) are tracking in the UK in comparison with the overall index (dark blue). And I always have a look at a couple of the other indices – generally freight related. It’s no surprise to see that Freight Forwarding prices (grey) are rising ahead of general business inflation, reflecting the impact of Covid in the past couple of quarters and with Brexit still to come.

You might not believe this but, funnily enough, I’ve never looked at the price index for consultancy (light blue) before. Currently moving in the opposite direction to the overall index, plainly it’s interesting - both from a general perspective (what we hear about in the news is the NHS paying very high consultancy day rates) and from a professional standpoint, as it doesn’t reflect what I’ve been seeing and what I hear from other established logistics consultants.

But what especially interests me in this set of figures, is that I don’t tend to regard logistics providers, and particularly hauliers, as always being the best at negotiation. But while we all know that diesel prices have been relatively low for the past couple of quarters, haulage rates have apparently continued to rise. Perhaps market elasticity is at work?

Aricia Update - SPPI - ONS - Road Freight - Freight Forwarding - Consulting - 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 - the top level Gross / GSO index as shown on the graph includes the provision of a number of different services to other service businesses as well as to non-service businesses and government departments. So it provides a measure of inflation for the UK service sector with individual price indices, such as Freight Transport by Road, aggregated to create that all-services industry index. It is published by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) and is a quarterly index - it is not seasonally adjusted.

Don't race to the bottom!

12 August 2020

The latest GDP figures were published earlier today along with the ONS ‘Flash productivity’, which does come with a disclaimer – as its name suggests, flash estimates are based on early data and are subject to revision as more accurate data becomes available. But this data is available at industry level, so I thought I’d have a quick look at the impact that the lockdown had had on productivity in Transport & Storage …and ended up going down a rabbit hole!

What you can see on the graph below is productivity for the Whole Economy (blue) and for Transport & Storage (purple). That productivity is £ per hour contribution to GVA - GVA is the value of an industry's outputs less the value of intermediate inputs used in the production process, and is used as a proxy for GDP – it is nothing to do with what individuals are paid.

I’ve also added some trend lines – you can see that things were rising reasonably predictably from 1997 through to the end of 2007, then the recession hit, then things started to pick up again …for the whole economy they picked up and continued to rise reasonably predictably (albeit at a reduced rate of increase – hence economists interest in the productivity puzzle), before the Covid cliff edge. But after its recovery from the Great Recession, Transport & Storage peaked at the end of 2014 and then started a downward course – a long time before the word Covid had been invented. Continued below the graph...

Aricia Update - Transport & Storage - Productivity - Output - Hours worked - GVA - Logistics Statistics

Pretty much as an aside, although it’s why I looked to start with, in 2020 Q2 Transport & Storage’s contribution to GVA was 67% of what it was in 2019 Q2, whereas the economy as a whole was less affected at 78%. One section of the economy improved in that comparison, Manufacturing of Chemicals & Pharmaceutical Products and the worst affected was Hotels & Catering, which only managed 12% of its 2019 Q2 level. In terms of hours worked in 2020 Q2, Transport & Storage worked 77% of the hours of 2019 Q2.

Back to my rabbit hole! Now Transport & Storage has a mix of various modes and includes public transport, transport by pipeline, bulk storage as well as road haulage, post/courier and warehousing. The air and sea elements can be put to one side as they are relatively small. Land transport has been fairly predictable in its productivity rise, but both Post/Courier and Warehousing have been more erratic, and of those warehousing is the larger by about 2.5 times.

Despite all the extra value-added work that’s come along with ecommerce, competition between industry participants is eroding both individual companies' profitability and our sector's contribution to the nation's productivity. Putting Covid to one side (and despite all that ecom), the Transport & Storage sector only represented 4.2% of the whole economy’s GVA in 2019 Q2, compared with 4.9% back in 2007 Q2. Whereas, hours worked in Transport & Storage have *risen* from 5.2% of all hours worked in 2007 Q2 to 5.5% in 2019 Q2.

If we go back to the graph, we have that decline from the end of 2014 in Transport & Storage that is not reflected in the economy as a whole. I recalled the UK Logistics Confidence Index back in 2015 commissioned by Barclays and Moore Stephens: “For the first time …maintaining their existing customer base is now the top focus for logistics companies …for over half (57%) of operators, their main source of new business over the past six months has come from ‘switchers’ from other logistics service providers. Barely one in ten said that their main source of new business came from customers renewing existing contracts.”.

We must stop fighting ourselves and stop that race to the bottom!

Amazon property - where next?

30 July 2020

Amazon's logistics property portfolio in the UK continues to rise and rise.

MWPVL have recently updated its amazing resource - a listing of all the Amazon properties in the world! Most of the Amazon data has been sourced from MWPVL's website, but then I've also done some Googling of my own, updating some figures, adding in new ones... I've made my best efforts with this graph, but I know it will contain errors where it's not quite clear how big a property is ...do you count square footage for different floors for an exercise like this? I've tried not to, but Amazon does love to rentalise its mezzanines!

The impact of Covid has been to increase online sales in the UK to 31.2% of retail sales in June, and if you want an up to date picture of inside one of its mega-sheds, you could do far worse than read this great piece about Tilbury, written just a couple of days ago, on Essex Live.

So far, so boring - the graph looks pretty much like last year, with just another year added. So, where next? Both a geographic and business question - if you currently sell on Amazon using FBA, there is extensive advice on the implications of Brexit and stockholding locations. But what will be the combination of Covid and Brexit be on Amazon's UK property requirements going forward? Will it continue its seemingly inexorable rise, increase the gradient due to Covid or flatten off as stock moves to the mainland?

Aricia Update - Amazon property - Fulfilment centres - Delivery Stations - Fresh - Prime - ecommerce Statistics

Need a job? Think Health or Retail?

16 June 2020

With headlines today like this one on the BBC: "More than 600,000 UK workers lose their jobs amid lockdown", people will be needing to apply for jobs, but at the same time vacancies are down to 2012 levels.

I did an update on this only a month ago, but thought I'd visit the subject again, as the drops that we are seeing now are more extreme. Earlier today the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published fresh figures, with the latest being for Mar-May 2020. All sectors have seen a reduction in vacancies over the past year - anything from about 15% to nearly three quarters.

Human health & social work still has a high level of vacancies, although not as many as a year ago. And despite the state of the high street and the impact of Covid, Retail still has a high number of vacancies at not far off 10% of those available in total - indeed these two sectors combined represent a third of all the vacancies currently available.

There are now about 476K vacancies UK wide, which compares with 841K a year ago - this latter figure not far off the highest number of vacancies in the figures available since 2001. Meanwhile, there are just 18K vacancies in Transport & Storage, down from 41K a year ago, and a max of 42K, and the number of vacancies per 100 employees is only three quarters of the UK average.

Aricia Update - Vacancies - Transport & Storage - Retail - Health - Logistics & Retail Statistics

NB Vacancies are reported by rolling quarter and are seasonally adjusted. The graph above shows how the number of vacancies has changed since the same period in 2007. It’s important to note that you can’t equate the Transport & Storage sector directly to Logistics. The former will include passenger transport, but won’t include logistics staff employed by, for example, retail companies.

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

Haulage operators at risk?

15 January 2020

Earlier today the ONS (Office for National Statistics) released the latest SPPI figures* for Q4 and 2019 as a whole. The graph below shows the SPPI index for Freight Transport by Road (bright pink) and an index for Road Freight Costs (Orange) derived from Motor Transport Cost Tables. The indices are shown from 2015 onwards, with both brought back to a base of 100 in 2015 for easy comparison.

As anyone who has reviewed the recent Motor Transport Top 100 figures will be aware, margins in the industry remain precariously low, having reduced over the past few years. As can be seen from the graph, there is now a wide gap between rates and costs compared with 2015, and I think that many people would accept that the haulage business wasn’t exactly lucrative then!

Just the other day, I heard someone say that everyone wants everything at a backload rate these days - although rates have started to rise over the past few years, they are not rising fast enough, potentially putting more than just Eddie Stobart at risk.

Aricia Update - SPPI - Road Freight - ONS - Cost tables - Motor Transport - 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.

Transport as a leading indicator?*

3 October 2019

I've always been interested in relationships ...and, no, before you ask, not the Boris & Jennifer type! Relationships between different data sets. I'm told that this is one of the most interesting updates I've done, but also at the same time, one of the most complicated. Perhaps the two go together?

The first thing you'll be wondering is "Why is there a loop in that graph?". What you're seeing is a spot for each quarter from Q4 1994 through to Q2 2019, with GDP on the X Axis and Light Commercial Vehicle mileage on the Y Axis. The 'loop' is the 2008/9 recession, with the spots rising until Q1 2008, GDP then reducing while van mileage remains pretty constant until Q3 2009 when mileage reduces slightly while GDP begins to increase again, forming that anti-clockwise loop.

This GDP data has been released by the ONS in the last couple of days, and the mileage data is from the latest DfT** release in the latter half of September. I'm not usually interested in old info, but the reason I've gone back to 1994 (the oldest mileage data in that release) is that it demonstrates how straightforward the relationship normally is.

What really attracted my attention is the 'hook' that is forming at the top of the graph (as near to now as this data allows us to get). It's clockwise (so moving in the opposite direction) and obviously has a different driver to the 2008/9 recession.

I'm very interested in what other industry contacts think is causing this, but to me it looks as if there is currently the start of an economic downturn almost being driven by a reduction in van mileage, rather than vice versa. Polish drivers going back to mainland Europe? Stockpiling followed by the start of a bullwhip effect?*** Whatever the reason and, although I know some readers will find the analysis obscure, I believe what it shows to be of national importance.

Aricia Update - GDP - LCV miles - DfT - ONS - recession

The GDP data is seasonally adjusted and the mileage data is rolling annual mileage, so comparable. I've gone for LCV mileage rather than HGV, as a) it's about 3x higher and, crucially, b) it follows GDP more closely (LCV mileage against GDP has an R-Squared in Excel of 0.9708, even with the loop etc - ie near perfect correlation. HGV mileage shows virtually no correlation with GDP, with R-Sq = 0.0032). Although it's worth noting that HGV mileage has also fallen recently after sustained increase since 2013.

NB If you look at £GDP/LCV mile over the whole period there is a general trend down from over £11.50 to less than £10.50.

Three notes added 7 October:

* I'm extremely grateful to Richard Simpson of Transport Operator for his input on this, making me realise I should probably have given the piece a different title!

Aricia Update - LCV - Mileage - DfT

** And here is a link to the actual DfT data (I used table TRA2501), as I realise you couldn't access it from the pdf link.

*** And finally (I think) thank you to Christopher Moir for this contribution - so I was totally wrong with my potential reasons!

Aricia Update - LCV - Mileage - DfT

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.

Transport & Storage - an ever-changing business

25 March 2019

Last week the ONS (Office for National Statistics) published its latest figures for job vacancies across the UK, and I was freshly struck at what a changeable business we are.

What these two graphs show is employment of men (blue) and women (pink) – the top graph is all sectors and the lower one Transport & Storage, with numbers in employment measured against the left hand axis. On the right hand axis is the volume of vacancies, which is shown by the grey line.

The overall picture is that our industry is very erratic when compared with the country as a whole, and with our peaks of employment and vacancies rarely coinciding with what we all tend to regard as “peak”. The final vacancy plot on the Transport & Storage graph is my own estimate of what the vacancy figure will be for Jan-Mar based on the two previous rolling quarters …continued below graph.

Aricia Update - Transport & Storage - Employment & Vacancies - ONS - March 2019 - logistics and transport statistics

I’ve written before about the drop in employment in our industry when the most recent recession hit, compared with just a wobble in the plateau of total employment (the bit I’ve highlighted with an oval). Although we only represented 5.5% of the total number of employed, we represented more than a quarter of the lost jobs that dip illustrates. We were very good as an industry at cutting costs, but not so good at looking to the future.

Now I need to say that the periods are different for the two measures with the total in employment reported by conventional quarters that are not seasonally adjusted, whereas vacancies are reported by rolling quarter and are seasonally adjusted – I have selected the rolling quarter that matches the conventional quarter.

All sets of figures are in thousands and I’ve made the relative scales proportionate, so that although you have to have a different scale because of the different numbers, the volume of vacancies when compared with the numbers in employment is the same for both the total and Transport & Storage.

And of course the other thing that strikes you is the relatively small proportion of women employed in our industry compared with the country as a whole - an area where our industry demonstrates little in the way of change.

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.