Freight Rate Forecast 2024

Rich Harkey

July 02, 2024

Blog

In recent years, the freight and logistics industry has experienced continual and significant fluctuations. The lingering effects of pandemic-era shutdowns and scarcity continue long after the astronomical rates began normalizing again in 2022 and 2023.

But, rather than hitting an equilibrium, excess carrier inventory led to continually falling rates throughout the last year, creating an industry recession.

Ultimately, 2023 proved much more favorable for shippers than carriers—with about 8,000 brokers and eleven times as many carriers going bankrupt due to lacking demand and recessive market trends. But will we see more of the same with this year’s freight rate forecast? 

This 2024’s state of logistics gets an in-depth breakdown below.

Overview of Current Freight Rates

The most significant factor affecting freight rates at the start of 2024 remained the disparity between carrier inventory and shipper supply. Following the unprecedented demand spikes during the pandemic, many new carriers eagerly entered the market with expectations of a windfall.

But rapid increases in carrier supply cause dramatic shifts, and we’ve witnessed the fallout over the last year. For example, price softenings led to global container freight rates steadily decreasing from $2,132 in January 2023 to a low of $1,342 by October. The consequences of these rate reductions reached wide, with even long-time logistics giant Yellow filing for Chapter 11.

As this carrier competition increases, shippers only stand to benefit from better rates in the short term. However, as more and more carriers exit the market, rate competition will cool off.

So, one of the biggest questions among shippers remains, “Will truck rates go up in 2024?”

Factors Influencing Freight Rates in 2024

Industry forecasts heading into this year remained lukewarm at their most optimistic, projecting carriers to show little to no recovery for the first six months and some positive growth only for the latter six. The factors prolonging this recession period into 2024’s second half include:

  • Excess carrier inventory – The current state of logistics hasn’t suddenly changed now that it’s 2024; too many competing carriers continue to drive down rates. And while the trend of carriers exiting the market should raise demand, it’s unclear how quickly that will occur and how many smaller carriers continue contributing to the excess inventory while they optimistically hold out for the situation’s reversal.
  • Inflation and interest rates – Both businesses’ and the average consumer’s persistent concerns over inflation and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates generally restricts purchasing. And fewer purchases means less to transport—keeping demand for carrier inventory low. Although consumer confidence is beginning to show positive trends, uncertainty still lingers.
  • International conflict – The military action unfolding in Eastern Europe and the Middle East introduces volatility. And with the Suez Canal and the Red Sea region providing one of the most significant global shipping channels, the route, capacity, and price adjustments carriers continue making due to these conflicts only complicate forecast accuracy and prevent the market from normalizing faster.
  • Contract negotiations – As a major cause for its 2023 bankruptcy filing, Yellow cited a breakdown in contract negotiations with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union. 2024 expects to see more contract negotiations, with the ramifications on freight rates unknown for now.
  • Environmental regulations – As carriers continue preparing for increasingly strict environmental regulations introduced to combat climate change, their operating costs will increase. In particular, the EPA recently announced stricter requirements for 2027-2032. OEMs stand to benefit from fleets transitioning to new, more fuel-efficient transportation, but carriers will be impacted and shift some of those costs onto shippers.
  • Inventory backlogs – While many industries might seem back to normal a few years on from the pandemic, logistics continues dealing with the aftershocks. And the supply chain impacts seen from 2020-2022 led many retailers to overstock their inventories. Only now are those backlogs beginning to clear out for some businesses. Although some retailers seem reluctant to resupply, this situation should increase carrier demand.

Transportation modes, competition for cargo space, fuel price fluctuations, ad hoc orders, and more will all continue introducing the normal variables that make it difficult for shippers to predict and budget for freight rates. However, the factors above have already demonstrated an outsized influence industry-wide.

Predictions for Freight Rates in 2024

Given the challenges carriers currently contend with, shippers should feel somewhat optimistic that they’ll continue to benefit from the lower rates seen so far and carriers’ slow recoveries. However, assuming these low rates will continue indefinitely could result in dire consequences for unprepared shippers if they snap back suddenly.

For example, an index of global 40ft. container costs fluctuated wildly over the past six months:

  • $1,661 on December 21st
  • $3,964 on January 25th
  • $3,493 on February 29th
  • $2,929 on March 28th
  • $2,706 on April 25th
  • $4,072 on May 23rd

And looking at another shipping metric—the “Freight Sentiment Index”—the outlook is becoming more optimistic for carriers and brokers but more pessimistic for shippers as 2024 continues on.

Understandably, carrier and shipper outlooks tend to invert each other, with an equilibrium proving most beneficial to all sides. But the drastic supply and demand swings we’ve seen in recent years suggest that any market correction that returns purchasing power to carriers could dramatically overshoot a happy medium.

For a more detailed breakdown, let’s examine different projections for different transportation modes.

Truck Transportation

The 2024 outlook for FTL and LTL shipping remains somewhat stagnant for the near future. Excess carrier inventory caused by private operators entering the market in recent years continues to hamper growth.

However, ACT Research projects that truck transportation has entered the early stages of recovery. And if consumer confidence continues growing, demand could start steadily rising too.

Rail Transportation

Railroad logistics potentially seem poised to capture increasing portions of the market moving forward. The segment already showed 2.3% volume improvements for carloads and intermodal shipping at the start of this year compared to 2023. And technology implementations—such as placing GPS trackers on individual railcars to improve tracking—increasingly make railways more competitive.

But whether rail’s growth continues may depend on trucking. Despite rail’s environmental advantage over trucking only growing stronger over time, FTL and LTL may still be the top choice for shippers due to the currently low rates.

Air Transportation

Despite a steady decline of the Baltic Exchange Air Freight Index from mid-2022 through Q3 of last year, this modality saw a brief spike to close out 2023. And the start of 2024 began looking optimistic.

Due to the ongoing military conflict in the Middle East, some shippers have elected to temporarily transition from maritime shipping to sending freight via air. This shift—combined with supply chain effects from an earlier-than-normal Chinese New Year—has seen 2024’s early demand eclipse 2023’s by 10%. 

Maritime Transportation

Per the Journal of Commerce, maritime logistics are beginning to show positive signs of recovery—due, in part, to better import forecasts produced by US retail businesses. Still, port congestion remains an issue, international conflict continues disrupting shipping lanes, and extreme weather forecasts remain significant concerns.

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How Businesses Can Prepare for Changes

In times of freight rate uncertainty, relationships and extensive preparation offer wise paths forward.

To start, it’s important to monitor the factors affecting carriers’ business decisions—such as fuel price fluctuations, labor negotiations, environmental regulations, and geopolitical events. Sudden changes associated with these factors will impact the broader industry for better or worse. And with carriers already struggling, it becomes increasingly likely they’ll be forced to pass a portion of any additional costs onto shippers.

Businesses can also better ensure supply chain resilience and secure affordable freight rates by closely collaborating with their logistics partners. And recognizing the difficult recession situation many smaller, private carriers currently navigate will only strengthen those relationships. Moreover, strengthening partnerships will only help keep a business’ costs lower should freight supply and demand suddenly invert.

Leveraging Lojistic’s Solutions for Cost Efficiency

No matter how much you prepare, if your efforts aren’t backed by shipping data and analytics, you’re still making your best guess when running your business. So, the best preparation involves implementing technology platforms like Lojistic’s for shipping analytics and shipping reporting.

The insights provided by Lojistic’s tools and API will help:

  • Assess different carriers by tracking, analyzing, and predicting freight costs
  • Compare available shipping modes to determine best options on cost and delivery
  • Code costs from more granular financial breakdowns and forecasts
  • Provide leverage during freight contract (re)negotiation
  • Identify refund opportunities on completed shipments and submit them to carriers
  • Provide access to group rates to save on LTL shipments

Informed decision-making becomes increasingly crucial as freight rate projections for 2024 remain uncertain and potential demand swings loom.

The Strategic Importance of Freight Rate Insights

This year continues 2023’s industry performance, with carriers struggling and shippers benefiting from the competition-driven lower rates. And for now, forecasts only predict moderate carrier demand growth over the rest of 2024.

However, the multitude of factors affecting current freight rates constantly shift the logistics landscape. Favorable rates for shippers today could quickly turn to carriers’ advantage tomorrow. And recent supply and demand swings across logistics have been pretty severe.

To ensure your business is prepared for whatever 2024 ships your way, sign up for Lojistic.

Sources:

Insurance Business Mag. Trucking bankruptcies fuel 'hyper-competitive' insurance marketplace. https://www.insurancebusinessmag.com/us/news/auto-motor/trucking-bankruptcies-fuel-hypercompetitive-insurance-marketplace-478719.aspx 

Statista. Global container freight rate index from the 12th January 2023 to the 23rd May 2024. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1440707/global-container-freight-index/ 

CNBC. The global freight recession will continue in 2024: CNBC Supply Chain Survey. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/11/07/freight-recession-will-continue-in-2024-cnbc-supply-chain-survey.html 

FleetOwner. 2024 won't get much worse for trucking, analyst says. https://www.fleetowner.com/news/economics/article/21283897/market-conditions-outlook-for-2024-pessimistic-according-to-ftr-transportation-intelligence 

Roanoke College. Virginia Consumer Sentiment and Inflation Expectations Report for May 2024. https://www.roanoke.edu/news/rc_poll_consumer_sentiment_may_2024 

AP News. Inflation pressures lingering from pandemic are keeping Fed rate cuts on pause. https://apnews.com/article/federal-reserve-rates-inflation-prices-loans-economy-aab628326f0d539c47fac53ecb5e2932 

Statista. Impact of the Israel-Hamas war on shipping in the Red Sea - statistics & facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/12046/impact-of-the-israel-hamas-war-on-shipping-in-the-red-sea/ 

Reuters. US trucking firm Yellow files for bankruptcy, blasts Teamsters. https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/us-trucking-firm-yellow-files-bankruptcy-after-loading-up-debt-2023-08-07/ 

FreightWaves. 2024 outlook for US domestic logistics. https://www.freightwaves.com/news/2024-outlook-for-us-domestic-logistics 

Truck Parts and Service. EPA announces stricter emissions regs for 2027 and beyond. https://www.truckpartsandservice.com/regulations/industry/article/15667562/epa-announces-stricter-emissions-regs-for-2027-and-beyond 

WSJ. Retailers Return to Bringing in Inventory ‘Just in Time’. https://www.wsj.com/articles/retailers-return-to-bringing-in-inventory-just-in-time-4613e3ee 

Progressive Railroading. Freight railroads start 2024 with volume growth. https://www.progressiverailroading.com/rail_industry_trends/news/Freight-railroads-start-2024-with-volume-growth--71003 

Marketplace. Freight railroads want to let companies track shipments to compete with trucking. https://www.marketplace.org/2024/02/15/freight-railroads-track-their-shipments-compete-with-trucking/ 

FreightWaves. Air cargo growth to start 2024 less than meets the eye.  https://www.freightwaves.com/news/air-cargo-growth-to-start-2024-less-than-meets-the-eye 

Journal of Commerce. Outlook for US freight economy remains cloudy despite early import surge. https://www.joc.com/article/outlook-us-freight-economy-remains-cloudy-despite-early-import-surge_20240507.html 
International Lashing Systems. Forecast of the cargo industry in 2024. https://www.ils.be/forecast-of-the-cargo-industry-in-2024/

Author

Rich Harkey

Rich Harkey

Senior Strategy Manager

Rich Harkey is a results-driven professional with extensive experience in the logistics and supply chain industry.

As the Senior Strategy Manager at Lojistic, Rich leverages over three decades of expertise to help businesses improve their shipping strategies and reduce costs. With a deep understanding of the requirements of shippers and the operational intricacies of carriers, he excels in everything from optimizing business rules and managing carrier invoices to negotiating carrier contracts.

Rich's comprehensive knowledge of the logistics industry, combined with his strategic insights and passion for data analysis, has enabled thousands of companies to gain visibility into their shipping expenses, driving impactful results.
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