MRC Global InSight

Transportation Update

As we move into our second year of government regulations and restrictions brought on by COVID-19, port congestion and winter storm events, we see that transportation capacity and freight pricing continue to be unstable. Across the over-the-road (OTR) market, rates are still in check. However, while shipment volumes are growing, carriers are rejecting more loads due to lack of capacity, signaling that outbound rates may be increasing in the near future.

The overall number of sailings and flights have reduced greatly, limiting capacity and driving the price of ocean and air freight up significantly higher in many areas. Prices and conditions can fluctuate by the month, or even by the week, depending on lane and mode. MRC Global’s transportation team is working with contracted providers to continually review freight options and stay at the forefront of the capacity and price challenges the current market conditions impose on all industries.

Below are the summaries for each mode of transportation as of April 1, 2021, based on input from our global providers.


Throughout much of the global ocean freight logistics chain, difficulties are projected to continue well into Q2 2021, including high prices, poor vessel reliability, capacity issues and acute equipment shortages. Maritime rates have surged. The cost of shipping a 40' container from Hong Kong to Los Angeles has nearly quadrupled in the last year. According to a Sea-Intelligence analysis2, almost 87% of the arrivals were late for shipments from Asia to the North American west coast, and on average, by more than 10 days.


Air cargo shipments were down 3% in March from January and February levels, while rates remain high. The passenger market continues a slow recovery.


Trucking: Many truckload carriers are reporting double-digit increases in contracted rates, at around 15% over 2020. Less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers are struggling to keep up with demand and are facing higher labor costs for both drivers and dock workers. Equipment availability and utilization are also suffering as customer warehouses face labor shortages due to the pandemic.

Rail: Rail volumes increased 6.2% year-over-year in late March, up from +1.4% and -17.6% the prior 2 weeks. Volumes increased another 5% sequentially and have now fully recovered from severe winter weather in mid-February, with absolute volumes at their highest point so far this year.

The volatility of transportation pricing across all modes cannot 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.