In 2009, the U.S. third party logistics sector saw its first year-over-year drop in market revenues since 1995, when Armstrong & Associates began tracking the U.S. 3PL market.
In its recently released 3PL Market Review and 2010 Outlook, Armstrong & Associates found that total 2009 3PL gross revenues were down 15.2 percent from 2008 to $105.1 billion, while net revenues fell 6.5 percent to $54.6 billion.

On the bright side, 2009 is over, and 2010 promises to see improvement. The researchers estimate that U.S. 3PL gross revenues will gain 7.2 percent in 2010, with net revenues expected to see a 3.3 percent boost. According to Armstrong & Associates, net revenues tend to grow at a slower rate than gross revenues because of timing differences.

However, 2009 was not all bad, with indications that customers continued to increase their use of 3PLs as they focused on core competencies outside of logistics.

"This provided some underlying structural strength to the 3PL Market; however, it was greatly overshadowed by dramatic cyclical drops in transactional international and domestic transportation shipment volumes," the outlook said. "The recessionary volume drops directly translated into the significant gross and net revenue declines shown within the transportation 3PL segments."

Domestic and international transportation management saw large year-over-year drops in gross revenue in 2009, down 14.4 percent and 25.2 percent, respectively. Dedicated contract carriage did not fare any better, down 15.2 percent from 2008. Meanwhile, the value-added warehousing and distribution segment saw gross revenues down only 0.7 percent, with net revenues up 1.7 percent from 2008.