Supply Chain by the Numbers

- April 15, 2016 -

  Supply Chain by the Numbers for Week of April 15, 2016

Amazon's Assault on Apparel Sector; Diesel Prices Expected to Remain Low Despite Recent Rise in Oil; Successful Test of Truck Platooning in Europe; Idle Container Ship Pool Keeps Growing


$52 Billion

Astoundingly, that is the level that Amazon's US apparel sales - including third party sales through its Marketplace service - is expected to rise by 2020, according to a forecast from financial services Cowen & Co. That would be up from $16 billion in 2015 - an incredible rise. In fact, in 2017 Amazon is expected to unseat Macy's as the top US apparel retailer, with sales of $27.8 billion versus $24.7 billion for Macy's, with Amazon's trend line looking almost vertical. Amazon is attacking the apparel sector in numerous ways, including recently introducing seven of its own private labels, including Franklin & Freeman men's shoes and Society New York women's dresses. It is also wooing high end fashion brands with much improved "merchandising" on its web site, and promises not to heavily discount the merchandise, with growing success. Then there is as usual the technology: Over a recent period studied by Boomerang, Amazon changed prices 9.2 times on average per item, based on sophisticated analytics, while Macy's changed prices just 2.1 times and Kohl's did so only 1.5 times.




That will be the average price of US on-the-road diesel fuel this summer, according to a new forecast from the U.S. Energy Department. That would be down from an average of $2.74 last summer, defined as the period from April to September. So, despite the recent relative rise in oil prices, which for US West Texas Intermediate are now just above $40 per barrel, after falling to as low as about $31 or so in February, fuel prices are expected to stay low. The average for the first quarter of the year was $2.07 per gallon. The department expects the retail price of regular-grade gasoline to average $2.04 per gallon this summer, down from an average of $2.63 per gallon last summer. If this happens, this would mark the lowest summer average since 2004. The Energy Dept. also expects oil prices to stay low, with an average of $40.58 in 2017, versus $93.17 as recently as 2014. Amazing.


That is how many miles the longest of six truck "platoons" drove on its way to the port city of Rotterdam, Netherlands, arriving there from Sweden. The test was organized by the Dutch government to demonstrate the capabilities many believe will improve truck fuel efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions, and improve safety. The platoon concept involves groups of two or three trucks with electronic communications travelling together. The route, speed and braking are controlled by the lead vehicle, with the trailing trucks responding in tandem. The connectivity enables the trailing trucks to travel with much less space between them then would never be safe with human drivers in control. This reduction in the gap protects the trailing trucks from some contact with the air, improving the aerodynamics. That improvement, plus travelling at more consistent speeds, improves mileage for the platoon by as much as 10%, proponents say. There has been one test in the US as well, but Europe is clearly ahead on this. This test had human drivers in each truck just in case, but the goal of course is eventually totally autonomous trucks, at least in the trailing vehicles.



That's the number of global container ships with above 3000 TEU capacity that are currently sitting idle, according to new research from the analysts at Alphaliner.  The firm says that idled container ship capacity remains at an "alarmingly high" level of 1.48 million TEUs, equivalent to 7.4% of the global fleet, as demand shows no sign of picking up. Alphaliner also says that demand for charter container ships, which is usually strengthening at this time of the year, has been faltering in the past weeks, "dashing hopes of seeing overcapacity decrease in the foreseeable future." More than 55 ships with capacity of more than 7500 TEU have been taken out of service. The "unprecedented" number of ships of more than 3,000 TEUs without work is prompting owners to consider scrapping relatively young vessels, Alphaliner notes. All this of course as usual is pushing container rates way down, as deliveries of more new megaships keep coming in the face of this overcapacity. The China Containerized Freight Index is now at about 640, down from 1050 or so a year ago.