Trade Issues Roil Freight Market

Sagging prices and mixed economic signals are casting a cloud over the U.S. freight market as bad weather and trade concerns bog down the spring shipping season.
 Demand for moving consumer products, industrial parts and other goods has been pulling back, according to transportation experts and some freight-industry measures—just at the time when freight operators start gearing up for a seasonal shipping surge that typically peaks between July and September.

Ship Orders Fall To Lowest In 15 Years

Orders for Ships have shrunk to the lowest level in 15 years as vessel owners struggle with excess capacity that has kept freight rates well below breakeven levels.
 There were 3,200 vessels of a combined 81 million gross tons ordered globally in the first quarter, the lowest figure since 2004, marine data provider Clarksons PLC said in a report released Friday. “The global order book has declined to its lowest level since the early stages of the shipbuilding boom,” said George Warner of Clarksons Research.

Arctic Shipping Faces Cold Realities

When the Venta Maersk sailed out of Vladivostok late last month, the container ship was laden with far more than just a load of seafood. With its progress across Russia's frigid arctic coast, the vessel also carried the promise of a new route across the globe that would shave time off major trade trips and cut the shipping industry's rapidly rising fuel bills.
 The reality for vessel operators is more complicated, however, and the economic and operating barriers to predictable, scheduled services may be more difficult to break through than the fast melting ice along the Arctic Circle.

Road Trip Redefined: 6,000 Miles, an 18-Wheeler and a Spouse

INTERSTATE 80, Nev. — Many couples and empty-nesters dream about traveling the world together. Some are making it a reality — in the cabs of 18-wheel freight trucks.
 On a recent Monday night, Karen and Paul Lucey and their dogs, Sammie and Earl, left home in the Bay Area to pick up a load in Hayward, Calif. Then, as they do almost every week, they started out on a six-day, 6,000-mile trip to New Jersey and back.

Freight Rates Force Change

Retailers and manufacturers are taking stock of their transportation costs and exploring alternatives as a capacity crunch in freight is driving up prices and causing shipping delays.
 A variety of companies, including food producer Hormel Foods Corp. and retailer Dollar General Corp., have reconfigured their supply chains, including building out their own truck fleets, reducing the frequency of pickups and deliveries, and shopping around for better rates.
 Freight rates have been climbing in recent months, making it harder and more costly for shippers

UPS is Running Late

MESQUITE, Texas — In the sticky Southern heat, hundreds of workers streamed in for the 11 a.m. shift last month at United Parcel Service Inc.'s local package- sorting facility, one of dozens nationwide that help it move millions of parcels daily.
 In a windowless room, a 30- year-old analog control panel about the size of a chest freezer monitors operations, with rows of green and red lights indicating when something goes awry in the building's web of conveyor belts.

Alibaba Battles for Delivery Edge With New Investment

SHANGHAI—Facing tougher competition in online retailing, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and its logistics arm are leading a $1.4 billion effort to boost their delivery capabilities.
 Under a deal announced Tuesday, investors led by Alibaba and its majority-owned logistics unit, Cainiao Network, will spend almost $1.4 billion to buy a 10% stake in express-delivery company ZTO Express Inc. of Shanghai, which delivered more than 6 million parcels last year.

Freight Tracker Adds Funding In Hot Market

FourKites Inc., a startup that tracks freight shipments in real time, said it has raised $35 million to expand its operations abroad and improve its ability to predict shipping times.
 The Chicago-based company makes software that shows shippers and logistics companies the location of their cargo and alerts them to potential delays.