Keeping It Fresh: What Happened to My Freight Budget?

Keeping It Fresh:                        What Happened to My Freight Budget?

By Gerald Ebert, ALC Richmond

Is the severity of the “supply chain crisis” a direct result of the COVID pandemic? Probably.
Are 15 months of consecutive Year-Over-Year freight cost increases a direct result of COVID and the “supply chain crisis”? That question is not as easily answered.
Most of us in the freight business work in a right here and right now world. We win and lose looking into a crystal ball that has been very cloudy the last few years. We work hard to find commonalities with past trends to help give us even the slightest advantage.
Even with years of experience and more real-time data than ever before at our fingertips, every tight truck market is the “tightest we have ever seen”, while a loose truck market seems to add hours to every day.

As everything these days is a “crisis”, it is not uncommon to hear that the national reopening that followed the COVID shut down was the beginning of the current capacity “crisis.”
It’s true, that average truckload prices did increase approximately 80% from the end of the COVID shutdown through the close of 2020. This trend continued through 2021. Only as 2021 closed, did we see the Year-Over-Year gap shrink to reasonable comparisons.
With all that has happened since we found ourselves adjusting to a new and often unwelcome reality, it’s easy to forget that before The COVID Shutdown, The Great Reopening, The Workforce Shortage, The Supply Chain Crises, and Surging Inflation, there was January, February, and March of 2020.
I recall having numerous, maybe daily, conversations with colleagues in those three months in which we opined, “This the tightest market we have ever seen.” It wasn’t. In fact, it didn’t really come close in comparison to the capacity challenges we faced in June and July of 2018.

The industry, and those of us that work in it every day, were simply conditioned by an unusually long 24 to 26 month cycle of demand and rate decline. It is likely that the COVID pandemic was just an unpredictable pause of the inevitable rebound we are still dealing with today.
2022 is not showing any signs of a downward correction. Most are predicting mild 3-5% increases when compared to 2021. The reality is that we won’t know until the year concludes. That’s the way transportation works. Hindsight is crystal clear. The only thing crystal clear about the future in transportation is that it will be different than it was the previous year.
The market doesn’t recognize any calendar or bid cycle. It doesn’t show mercy for the unpredictable. When the market destroys your budget, it shouldn’t destroy solid relationships that have been built over years.

2021 proved, yet again, that any commodities market is measured by a simple supply and demand equation.  From 2018 through 2019, that equation favored the shipper. For most of 2020 through today, and for the foreseeable right here and right now future, it has forced shippers to battle for capacity. Trusted resources and strong relationships have never been more important. That crystal clear hindsight view will verify those relationships.


Gerald Ebert began his career with Allen Lund Company as a transportation broker in the San Antonio office. In 1999, Ebert transferred to ALC Richmond and was promoted to the manager of the Richmond office in 2000.