MRC Global InSight

Transportation Update

As a global distributor, we face the full impact and challenges that market conditions bring regarding available freight capacity and it’s cost on a daily basis.

In light of the extensive government regulations and restrictions brought on by COVID-19, transportation capacity and freight pricing are as volatile as ever. Most recently, prices have increased as much as 40% across over-the-road (OTR) modes in a matter of months. The overall number of sailings and flights have reduced greatly, limiting capacity and driving the price of ocean and air freight up as much as 30% in many areas. Our customers should be aware that price and conditions can fluctuate by the month, or even by weeks, depending on lane and mode. Our transportation team is working with contracted providers to continually review freight options and stay on the forefront of the capacity and price challenges the current market conditions impose on all industries.

As of August 26, 2020, here are summaries for each mode of transportation based on input from our global logistics providers:


The cost of moving goods by ship has climbed 12% in 2020 and is now at its highest point in 5½ years.


Limited passenger flights, which handle about half of the world’s airborne cargo, have created a significant reduction in available belly capacity, which has driven rates higher in spite of a decline in demand of about 19%. Air-cargo rates from Hong Kong to North America have nearly tripled from March to mid-May. Pricing has fallen 37% since the peak in May, however, they are still 60% higher than a year ago.


Trucking: Just four months after a widespread collapse in freight volumes, the U.S. less-than-truckload (LTL) sector is in the midst of a turnaround. Some carriers are using pricing as a lever to keep less-profitable freight from clogging their networks as volumes climb. Some LTL carriers are also limiting the amount of freight they will accept from existing customers and turning away new business, for the same reason. That is a dramatic difference from April and May, when LTL carriers scrambled for loads.

Rail: Rail volumes declined 6.9% year-over-year, and improved from -9.0% and -8.5% in the two weeks prior to this publication. Volumes improved 1% sequentially but were mixed among the different rails.

The volatility of transportation pricing across all modes can not be stressed enough. We strongly recommend that any quotations used for planning or purchasing be supplied within 30 days. Beyond that, the conditions may have changed and pricing should be reassessed.