Logistics sector confidence hits four-year low amid fears of 'price war'

15 June 2016

Confidence in the logistics industry is at a four-year low, according to a survey.

The UK Logistics Confidence Index, produced by Barclays and Moore Stephens, found confidence among senior members of the UK’s logistics sector to be at its lowest level since the biannual survey began in 2012. 

The index showed that optimism in the first half of the year had fallen significantly to 51.8 compared to 61.9 in the second half of 2015. This is a fourth successive drop, the largest the index has recorded, taking it to its lowest point since the index started.

Competition and pressure facing many retailers and manufacturers is continuing to squeeze revenues in the logistics sector, the research found.

Some logistics customers are using falling fuel prices to demand lower rates, but fuel cost savings are more than outweighed by the rising cost of insurance, driver salaries in a sector hit by labour shortages and the costs of investment in technology and vehicles, according to the study.

There were also concerns about the impact of the UK’s EU referendum and a dampening of demand in China and the eurozone, despite continued growth in the UK economy.

Just under half of respondents (47%) expected the outlook for the UK logistics sector to deteriorate in the short term. A narrow majority anticipated conditions remaining steady, but the number that anticipating conditions to be “more difficult” was 26 percentage points higher than this time last year.

Barclays did however point out that the index, where a reading of over 50.0 indicates an expectation of future growth, with a reading below suggesting a decline, was just above its critical 50.0 mark.

Despite low levels of confidence, almost seven out of 10 respondents expected turnover to increase in the next twelve months, with the same number planning to invest in capital expenditure over the next six months.  

The survey found logistics businesses were facing increasing pressure from customers for lower prices during a period of rising competition and increasing costs. It was the biggest concern for respondents, cited by 49% as the most important issue facing their business, overtaking the long-running issue of lack of drivers and other skills in the industry (30%), Barclays said.

Price competitiveness was the most important factor in winning new business, with respondents reporting that 62% of new business stemmed from displacing an incumbent provider, a rise of 9% year on year.

This is in part prompted by a slump in new business from existing customers, the research said. Barclays said some respondents were concerned the logistics sector was facing a “price war” or a “race to the bottom”.

While 40% of respondents said business conditions had stayed the same, 49% said they were “more difficult”, up from 20% in the first half of 2015.

Developing value-added services, such as last-mile delivery, co-packing, returns management services, labelling, pre-assembly or even basic manufacturing were the most cited opportunities to drive contract wins and establish long-term customer relationships.

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