Looking back at 2017, with an eye on the future

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It is hard to believe that the time has come for another look back at a completed year. To be honest, and I know it sounds somewhat cliché, 2017 seriously flew by, or so it seems. There are different reasons why it feels that way, of course, but this year, in some ways, feels like a pivot, or transitional type of year on some fronts.

On an obvious note, the year began with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. It goes without saying that the working thesis heading into his first year was that things would be different, and, without a doubt, they definitely have been.

Without making this column a “deep dive” about year one of the Trump White House, I will highlight a few things he has, or has not, done, that could ultimately impact the logistics and freight transportation markets:

  • pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement;
  • potentially reconfiguring NAFTA, which he has blasted as “the worst trade deal ever”;
  • the assumed rollout of a significant national infrastructure plan, which has not made significant inroads, at least not year; and
  • the new tax reform plan, which has received high praise from myriad freight transportation and logistics concerns

How these things, and others, shake out going forward remains to be seen, but they will clearly be worth following.

But it was not just a year about Trump in 2017 in our industry; it was about many other things, too.

One thing that jumps out is the ongoing emergence of the e-commerce supply chain and its related verticals, including the last-mile (or final mile, if you prefer) market.

These two things are related and symbiotic, too, considering how much attention and traction they have received over the course of this year and prior to that, especially, now, too, that we are all hustling to wrap up our holiday shopping.

Make no mistake, while we all are paying close attention to the e-commerce supply chain and the last-mile market, it is early in the game with many yards to go before we see how things develop going forward. A lot of progress has been made in what really has been a pretty small window, and it will be fascinating to see where things move from here going forward.

The same goes for technology, too, with the advent, and continued development of so many technologies that are already impacting the freight transportation and logistics, with lots of room still to run.

What technologies exactly? Take your pick, the cupboard is full of them, and it includes: AI, blockchain, APIs, Cloud computing, driverless trucks, and others, too. Logistics technology was in the spotlight in 2017, and it stands to reason that will not change anytime soon.

As things like this were happening in 2017, there was a lot going on from a modal perspective, too.

Buoyed by increased demand due to an ongoing economic recovery, the truckload market is back to 2014 levels in many ways, with capacity tight and carriers seeing the pendulum swing in terms of rate gains, too. This has also played out in the form of the spot market seeing record highs for rates and volumes.

2017 was also a good year for the railroad and intermodal sectors, with volumes steady on the rail carload side, and setting records on the intermodal side. Is that the new normal on the tracks? It is somewhat hard to say at this point, and requires continued attention.

Not to be overlooked in any way, is that 2017 saw strong import levels at United States-based ports, which, in many ways, helped to set the table for what, by most accounts, has been a very strong holiday shipping and shopping season, well, mostly shopping at this point. That does not change the fact that containership overcapacity on the high seas remains an issue, coupled with many new ship builds planned or already happening. But the ongoing wave of carrier alliances appears to be helping keep things in check, too.

Another thing that is always interesting and notable is the ground parcel delivery and express market. This year, the sector benefitted from strong economic momentum, as evidence by FedEx’ recently released strong results this week.

Make no mistake, each one of these aforementioned topics, trends, and events from 2017 could very well stand as an individual news story or column, but that was not my intent here. My goal was to provide a snapshot of some of the key things we saw, with an eye on the future, too. I am certain I missed some things, and I apologize for that, but I need to go do some last minute shopping.

Before signing off, though, it never hurts to look ahead to 2018 (and the future in general). What do you think the big topics will be in the year ahead and what should we be following? Let me know at [email protected] so we can get things going.

You can also read our Top Read News Stories of 2017

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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