Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Freight Figures Plummet - But Are They Relevant?

Eurostat Produce 'Latest' Statistics
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – Statistics are of course the weapon of choice, indeed often the only tool available, for most analysts, and this applies to the freight transport sector which includes road and rail haulage as well as air cargo and short and deep sea transport. The latest transport figures produced by eurostat, the Directorate General of the European Commission charged with producing a huge raft of comparative statistics, will doubtless be pored over by logistics experts everywhere as avidly as by those scrutinising other industries.

Unfortunately these comparisons, and indeed predictions, suffer from the same problems that all such surveys will when based upon huge amounts of data. The statistics are dependent on accurate numbers being received from all sources; witness the recent problems when Greek economic figures turned out to be based on falsehoods and eurostat found it necessary to issue a report explaining itself.

As far as the freight figures are concerned there are difficulties in collecting accurate data in all sectors, air and rail freight tend to be extremely accurate compared with road haulage for example. Vehicles less than 3.5 tonnes simply do not figure in the equation, which has a small, but significant impact on pan European movements and inevitably there is a cultural influence on the methods and diligence in collecting huge amounts of information from such diverse sources.

The most significant point about these numbers however is simply that, by the time they are released in a form suitable for analysis, they are out of date. The Irish road haulier looking at freight levels this week knows full well that tonnages dropped over 25% in 2009, to him this is simply old news. Europe wide road freight fell over 10% and rail 17% with bright spots hard to find (Poland saw road haulage boosted around 10% and Bulgaria jumped 16%) but overall these figures are meaningless to most observers concerned with running a business, they are already aware of what happened two years ago, their wages and overheads for that period now a distant memory, accounts finalised and lodged with the appropriate authorities.

In the world of logistics decisions are taken week by week as to the direction a company takes, none can afford to await the results collated by their fellows in order to make short term plans and so, whilst a useful historic tool, beware the trends indicated by these huge surveys, by the time they have become apparent the tide may well and truly have reversed.