BAROMETER. Despite a complicated economic situation, transport prices seem definitively to be heading towards the summits in September 2023. Soaring energy prices are driving inflation, as the sector faces government green planning.
At the beginning of autumn, France finds itself in the international spotlight for the better... and for the worse! On the one hand, the Rugby World Cup, which began on Friday, September 8 with the victory of the French over the All Blacks, has inspired a real passion likely to support the economy. But at the same time, bed bugs invaded the public debate, French media, but also international media, which is worrying as foreign visitors contributed to the healthy performance of the tourism sector during the summer...
In addition to these news items, which in reality cause the country's economy to fluctuate very little, there are much more structural subjects that are now attracting the attention of the world of road transport. On 25 September, President Emmanuel Macron presented a detailed strategy aimed at allowing France to "reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in 2030, protect biodiversity and act for the circular economy", at an Ecological Planning Council meeting. The plan prepared by the government was considered comprehensive and ambitious by many experts while raising concerns about its realism in the face of fears of new social tensions.
In terms of economic prospects, France is not doing too badly compared to some of its European neighbours. But after activity that was more dynamic than expected in the spring (+0.5%), INSEE has announced a slowdown, which should result in a growth rate of somewhere between +0.1% to +0.2% per quarter in the second half of the year. In September, the business climate remained stable, at its long-term average for the fifth consecutive month. It progressed in industry to reach 99 (+2 points) thanks to an improvement in the opinions of business leaders about their "personal production prospects". On the other hand, the indicator is declining in retail trade (103, down 2 points), due to a "general business outlook considered less favourably".
Road transport prices almost reaching their all-time highs
Despite this gloomy situation, road transport prices in France rose sharply in September, with an increase of +2.9% compared to the previous month. This is the strongest monthly increase in 3 years, apart from April 2022, a period marked by a month-on-month increase in diesel of more than 15% following the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Source: Upply Freight Index – Road France
Once again, the evolution of fuel prices seems to be a decisive factor. In August, commercial diesel had shown a strong increase (9%), but the spillover effect generally occurs the following month. For almost a year, other factors have fed the inflation of transport costs, minimising the correlation between the evolution of transport prices and that of diesel. It seems that we are therefore returning to a certain orthodoxy in September 2023.
On the other hand, the level of demand could delay the increase in road transport prices, given the less favourable economic outlook for the last quarter. Freight transport professionals have already noticed this slowdown. Everyone we talk to is unanimous: the volumes transported have been declining for several months and in September this decline was even more pronounced.