Freight transport and logistics

Anticipated market development (%)



German freight transport (based on tkm)



European rail freight transport (based on tkm)



European land transport (based on revenues)



Global air freight (based on t)



Global ocean freight (based on TEU)



Global contract logistics (based on revenues)



As of February 2021. Forecasts for 2021 rounded to half percentage points.

For 2021, it can be assumed that the weak economic stimulus evident in 2020 will initially continue beyond the end of the year. The outlook beyond that is marked by great uncertainty. Assuming that the Covid-19 crisis is contained and that there are no other crisis-like events, it is anticipated that there will be a tendency toward recovery over the course of 2021, although the performance level of 2019 is not expected to be reached again by the end of the year for the overall market. Following the further weakening of demand, the market will continue to be characterized by ongoing price and compe­tition pressure.

After the slumps in 2020 in sectors predisposed to rail transport such as iron ore and steel and in the automotive and combined transport areas, a strong performance increase is expected for rail freight transport in Germany. The effects of improved competitiveness through quality improvements and additional stimulus from train-path price support are also likely to support growth. On the other hand, the continuing structural changes involved in the ongoing energy transition will have a negative impact.

Road freight transport, which recorded the lowest decline in 2020 compared to other modes of transport, is also expected to develop strongly, though slightly below average, in 2021. In addition to the assumed catch-up effects, robust consumer sentiment and construction demand will also support growth.

Following the decline in performance in 2020, inland waterway transport should also record a sharp increase in 2021. However, due to its dependence on the weather and the resulting increased restrictions due to low water in recent years, the outlook remains subject to additional risk.

Assuming that the Covid-19 crisis is contained and that there are no other crisis-like events, a strong increase in performance is also expected for the European rail freight transport market for 2021. This will likely be supported by the re­covery of industrial production and European foreign and domestic trade, as well as various support programs and initiatives for rail freight transport. It can be assumed that combined transport will once again play a role in driving growth.

  • In 2021, revenues for the European land transport market are expected to be higher than in the previous year, although below pre-crisis levels. The driver of this development is a strong economic recovery. For Eastern Europe, a faster recovery and, in some cases, growth above the level of 2019 is expected. In contrast, most Western European countries will not return to their 2019 volumes again in 2021.
  • We expect freight levels to continue to improve for American land transport. In the third quarter, most of the major LTL companies in the US reported freight levels at or slightly above 2019. As the economy will recover slowly, it can be assumed that development will accelerate gradually in line with the vaccination rate.
  • Asian land transport will benefit from the recovery of the economy once the Covid-19 crisis has been overcome. Based on current forecasts by Oxford Economics, GDP will rise by 6.4 % in 2021 following a decline of 1.6 % in 2020 (subject to the risks of geopolitical uncertainty and turbulence on the financial markets).
  • Following the historic slump in 2020, the air freight market is expected to recover robustly, although this recovery will not be able to compensate for the slumps in 2020. As the worldwide access to a vaccine or medication against Co­­­vid-19 expands, the associated economic recovery will have a positive impact on air freight growth. The gradual return to (air) travel activities will affect the level of air freight rates, but it is still not expected that the pre-Covid-19 crisis level will be reached in 2021. Developments from political decisions will also influence market developments (reciprocal trade sanctions between the US and China, decisions by the new US administration, Brexit, etc.). The further development of the Covid-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on the markets.
  • The outlook for the global ocean freight market depends heavily on the development of supply and demand, as well as any second wave of the pandemic. For the time being, it is expected that the market size will return to the level of 2019 by 2021 or the beginning of 2022.
  • Taking into account the Covid-19 crisis, the market for contract logistics is expected to recover slowly in 2021 compared to the year under review and it is calculated that there will be subdued growth several percentage points below the level forecast before the Covid-19 pandemic. From a geographical perspective, global growth is expected, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region at a mid-single-digit percentage, while in America, Europe, and the Near/Middle East and Africa, only very low to stagnating growth rates will continue to be recorded. In the e-commerce, healthcare, electronics and some consumer goods market sectors, we continue to expect healthy business development, while the automotive, industrial and retail areas will see a slower and prolonged recovery. The aviation and space industry is expected to continue to experience subdued growth until 2022. We still see the greatest negative risk in the unpredictable development of major subsequent waves of the Covid-19 pandemic and their likely impact on the global macro economy.
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