Cass Freight Index shows signs of flattening volumes

By Jeff Berman · May 6, 2011

A moderation in freight volumes is apparent based on the most recent release of the Cass Information Systems Freight Index.

While the Cass data showed growth in February and March following three months of decreases, April was relatively flat on a sequential basis.

April shipments at 1.113 were up 12.3 percent annually and 0.45 percent compared to March’s 1.108, with shipments above for the 1.0 mark for the 11th straight month going back to May 2010’s 1.014 breaking the 1.0 level for the first time since November 20008.

And April expenditures at 2.279 were up 34.9 percent annually, and were up 2.6 percent compared to March’s 2.222.

As LM has stated, many trucking industry executives and analysts consider the Cass Freight Index as the most accurate barometer of freight volumes and market conditions, with many analysts noting that the Cass Freight Index sometimes leads the American Trucking Associations (ATA) tonnage index at turning points, which lends to the value of the Cass Freight Index.

The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index rose 1.7 percent in March (the most recent month for which data is available)  after dipping a revised 2.7 percent in February. This index was up 3.8 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, in January and December.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 123.3 in March, which was up 20.7 percent from February’s 102.6. On an annual basis, the SA was up 6.9 percent from March 2010’s 116.4.

“Year?over?year shipment volume is up 12.3 percent, which is a good indicator that although the economy is not expanding rapidly, it is in fact climbing out of the depths of the recession,” wrote Rosalyn Wilson, senior analyst with Declan Corporation, in a Cass report. “Freight volumes were mixed in April, with rail showing strong growth in the first two weeks of the month, but dropping off after that. Truckload carriers are experiencing capacity shortages, and most truckers are reporting more opportunities to carry freight than they have seated equipment. Higher fuel surcharges and modest rate increases have pushed shippers to be more efficient about their transportation choices, resulting in fewer shipments.”

Even though freight growth is moderating, a modest growth level indicates that things are trending in the right direction, according to Charles W. “Chuck” Clowdis, Jr., Managing Director, Transportation Consulting & Advisory Services, at IHS Global Insight.

Clowdis pointed out that if “job creation accelerates, hopefully over the summer and into the fall season, we should see encouraged consumer spending that will fuel transport level growth.”
The cautious optimism expressed by Clowdis was somewhat tempered by Mike Regan, CEO & Chairman of the Board, TranzAct Technologies, the author of LM’s “It’s Personal” blog.

Regan told LM that he sees the same exact things in the market place that are being brought to light in the Cass report.

“We are at a very critical juncture right now, and I don’t know which way things are going to go,” said Regan. “With gas prices rising and consumers pulling back, one of the issues you need to take a look at is the fact that consumers filling up their tanks once a week at these increased prices makes an impact on spending and freight volumes.”

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About the Author

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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