cheapest way to move cross country

Following up on last week's episode about the booming business that is rails, this week's episode of Industry Focus: Energy is all about shipping goods.

Motley Fool analyst Sean O'Reilly and regular contributor Adam Levine-Weinberg look into the most important differences in shipping goods by air, train, ship, truck, and pipeline, and what the cheapest ways to ship different goods are. Find out why overnight shipping is so expensive, where the majority of the cost in the shipping process comes in, why it might be cheaper to ship one good by plane and another by ship, why the rail industry is booming while the shipping industry is struggling to stay afloat, and more.

A full transcript follows the video.

Sean O'Reilly: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market every day. Today is Thursday, June 22, 2017, so we're talking about energy, materials, and industrials. I'm your host, Sean O'Reilly, and joining me in studio is our special guest, Motley Fool contributing investor Mr. Adam Levine-Weinberg. How's it going today, Adam?

Adam Levine-Weinberg: I'm doing very well. How about yourself?

O'Reilly: Not too shabby. I'm glad to be inside, out of this D.C. heat.

Levine-Weinberg: Yeah, absolutely. Another 93-degree day. It's too much.

O'Reilly: I will never understand why the Founders decided to build the capital in what was essentially a humid swamp. Today is a very special episode, because we're going to be talking about all the different modes of transportation that keep commerce in the U.S. economy coming. That is right: We're talking about planes, trains, and automobiles.

Adam, transportation is a multitrillion-dollar portion of the U.S. economy. Knowing what different types of transportation are most attractive is arguably vital for investors today. You had a really good idea: Let's break this down into two sections, the first section being moving goods and services that are non-oil, and then oil - the reason being, oil gets to use pipelines and no one else can. So right out the gate, if I want to ship something across the country, how do I figure out what is the best mode of transportation to use?

Levine-Weinberg: There are several factors that are important to making that decision. The main one is how fast you need your item to get where it's going. So, speed, there's a big trade-off between speed and cost. Obviously, on the flip side, you have cost. How much is the cost of shipping as a percentage of the value of the good that you're shipping? Are you shipping something that you're going to sell for $10, or something you're going to sell for $1, 000? That obviously has an impact on how much you can afford to pay for shipping to determine whether or not it's worth it to get there fast or take this slower route. On top of that, you have size. Obviously larger items, or bulky or heavy items, cost more to ship. So those are some of the most important things that you need to take into account.

O'Reilly: And this is definitely something that anybody who has gone to FedEx or the UPS Store or the post office and said, "I need something there tomorrow, " and it's, like, $30 to send an envelope. It's because of the speed factor. So how did those factors that you just listed impact the cost to move something, and what are the best options for each?

Levine-Weinberg: We'll start with speed. Obviously, if you need something to get there fast, then you need to use air, especially if you're going long distance. If you're going within a few hundred miles, then the truck could get you there in one day. But if you're doing longer distances, the trade-off is really between the ship, rail, and air, and air is going to be several days or even weeks faster. So that's why people will use that. Obviously, air shipments are extremely expensive. To a large extent, this also will depend on how bulky the item is, or how much you need to send at one time. Going back to your example of FedEx, if you're just sending an envelope, it will cost you $20 to $30 to get it there in a day. But it's only $20 to $30, and if it's something that really needs to be there, that's not the end of the world. If you're trying to ship a piano or something like that, then you're going to be paying a lot more than $30 to ship it by air.

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