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b2ap3_thumbnail_Estes---Saia_20170407-192111_1.jpgThe big news on the LTL scene in Canada over the past few weeks has been the severing of ties between Estes Express, the number 14 ranked carrier (on the Transport Topics list) in the United States and TST Overland Express, a large Ontario-based LTL carrier that is one of the major divisions of TFI International (formerly known as TransForce), Canada’s giant trucking conglomerate. This is a partnership that has endured for many years.

Estes Express Lines will be teaming up with two regional Canadian less-than-truckload carriers to offer LTL freight services to Canada under an Estes freight bill. Estes will be working with Speedy Transport of Brampton, Ontario, and Pacific Coast Express Ltd. (a division of the Landtran Group) of Surrey, British Columbia, to offer Estes Canada service. The new alliance will start May 22, according to Estes.

The company stated that U.S. shippers will work with only one carrier, Estes, from pickup to delivery, and all freight will be delivered on an Estes delivery receipt. In effect, Speedy Transport and Pacific Coast Express will become agents of Estes. When asked what drove the need for Estes to convert its Canadian service to a direct model, Ed Alderman, Vice President, International and Offshore Sales for Estes, said Estes wants customers to have the same quality Estes customer service experience from shipment to delivery as they have come to depend on domestically.

As reported in Transport Topics, Estes said it is forming dedicated account teams in Canada to provide the same service level that U.S. customers receive. Freight will move across the border in Estes pup trailers equipped with captive beams and Estes’ proprietary Webb walls. This direct method of cross-border shipping is meant to reduce handling of freight and decrease risk of damage, the company said.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Scan_20170318-185343_1.jpgThe following is my annual report on the state of the LTL Freight Industry in the United States and Canada.

Revenues Stagnated Again in 2016

Here are links to the top 100 carriers in Canada (http://www.todaystrucking.com/top100) and the top 25 LTL carriers in the United States (http://www.joc.com/sites/default/files/u48801/truck-tables_1_0.jpg).

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b2ap3_thumbnail_dreamstime_xl_36296918.jpgIt was sad to read that Meyers Transport, a Canadian motor carrier that has served the needs of shippers in Ontario for 90 years, closed its doors on January 20. Meyer’s Transport has been one of those “salt of the earth” family run businesses that has been a part of the Canadian trucking scene for almost a century. This news caused me to reflect on the changes taking place in the Canadian freight industry.

The Meyers closing comes very shortly after the news that TFI (TransForce International) had acquired National Fast Freight in late December. TFI has been consolidating Canada’s east-west intermodal business through the acquisitions of Clarke Transport, Vitran and the Quiktrax division of QuikX. It should be noted that Clarke Transport and Vitran were the product of various consolidations over the years (i.e. TNT Railfast, CSR and Cottrell Transport in the case of Clarke). While there have been a few new entrants to this segment of the industry over the past 20 years (i.e. Quiktrax, M0 Freightworks), the number of independent players has been shrinking.

If one steps back and looks at the entire LTL sector of the Canadian freight industry, it is clear how much consolidation has taken place during this period. TFI now owns TST Overland Express, Kingsway Transport, QuikX Transportation, Concord, Tripar Transportation in addition to Clarke Transport, NFF, Vitran, Quiktrax and a host of smaller players. In Western Canada, the Mullen Group has acquired the Gardewine Group, Grimshaw Trucking, the Highway 9 Group of Companies, Jay’s Transportation, the Kleysen Group and other smaller companies, each of which has LTL operations. The Manitoulin Group has also been active in acquiring LTL carriers. Over the past few years, it has purchased the LTL business of Penner International, Smooth Freight, Jomac Transport, the LTL division of Highway 13 and Ridsdale Transport.

Of course, there has been consolidation in other segments of the Canadian transportation industry. TFI made big news a few years ago, by acquiring the Contrans Group that it added to its diverse portfolio of purchased truckload carriers. More recently it acquired the truckload operations of XPO logistics. Canada’s other major transportation companies have also been active in acquiring truckload carriers. In the small parcel sector, TFI owns Canpar, Dynamex and Loomis.

There have also been some big changes in Canada’s logistics service provider industry. Radiant Logistics of Bellevue Washington purchased the Wheels Group last year and in December of 2016, Transplace of Dallas Texas acquired Lakeside Logistics. Two of Canada’s leading freight management companies are now under American ownership. Clearly there has been much consolidation in the traditional sectors of Canada’s freight industry - - - small parcel, LTL, truckload and third party logistics.

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Every few years I like to take a look at the segment of the freight industry where I got my start, the LTL sector. As I reviewed the landscape for this year’s blog, I am struck by the significant changes taking place in both the United States and Canada.

Revenue Growth Stagnated

Here are links to the top 100 carriers in Canada (http://www.todaystrucking.com/top100 ) and the top 25 LTL carriers in the United States (http://www.joc.com/sites/default/files/u48801/truck-tables_1_0.jpg ). The strong surge in revenue that less-than-truckload carriers enjoyed in 2014 stalled last year, as weaker demand and lower fuel surcharges dragged down LTL trucking’s top line. The combined revenue of the 25 largest U.S. LTL trucking companies declined 0.5 percent in 2015 to $32.1 billion, after shooting up 9.1 percent to $32.3 billion in 2014, according to The Journal of Commerce’s 2016 ranking of the Top 25 LTL Carriers, prepared by SJ Consulting Group. The report concludes that the decline in revenue may have as much to do with falling fuel prices as lower industrial demand.

The LTL Industry has become a “Big Boys” Game

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During the Great Recession, the LTL freight industry experienced a “near death” experience as declining freight volumes, excess capacity and falling rates conspired to dramatically reduce revenues and profits. The LTL market shrank from more than $33 billion U.S. at the peak in 2006 to $25.2 billion at the recession's trough in 2009. As we approach the mid-point of 2015, the fortunes of this industry look much brighter. Here’s why.

The industry has consolidated

Looking back over the past 25 years, only 4 of the top 50 carriers are still in operation. Over the past 10 years, there has certainly been a changing of the guard at the top. As noted in a recent Stifel transportation report, “Old Dominion has replaced FedEx Freight/Con-way Freight as the most profitable carrier in the industry. USF was bought by Yellow Roadway to become YRC Worldwide before it nearly went the way of Consolidated Freightways, Overnite became UPS Freight, Central Freight Lines went public then private, Vitran was sold in pieces, Saia sold Jevic (which then went bust), and Roadrunner acquired Dawes and Bullet to become the only national asset-light general commodity LTL carrier. The industry is more concentrated than ever . . . “

The report goes on to report that “the top-5 (U.S.) carriers have roughly 55% of the market. And those top-5 - FedEx Freight, YRC Worldwide, Con-way Freight, UPS Freight, and Old Dominion Freight Line - are all either historical disciplined pricers or have been burned in the past by their undisciplined ways or have no choice but to push price to improve margins.” The Canadian market is quite similar with TransForce, Day & Ross and Manitoulin dominating the LTL sector. Unlike the truckload sector, consolidation means more leverage and pricing power for the top LTL players.

Today’s LTL Carriers are leaner and meaner

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