Freight shipments and expenditures readings were mixed to finish 2022, according to the most recent edition of the Cass Freight Index, which issued this week by Cass Information Systems.
Many freight transportation and logistics executives and analysts consider the Cass Freight Index to be 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. What’s more, the Cass Transportation Indexes accurately measure changes in North American freight activity and costs based on $37 billion in paid freight expenses for the Cass customer base of hundreds of large shippers.
December’s shipment reading—at 1.161—was down 3.9% annually, steeper than November’s 0.4% annual decrease and October’s 3.9% decline, with September down 4.8%. It also trailed August’s 1.278 reading, which marked the highest level for shipments since May 2018. On a two-year stacked change basis, December shipments were up 3.5% and were down 3.3% and up 1.2% on a month-to-month and month-to-month seasonally adjusted (SA) basis, respectively.
“The larger [annual] decline, mainly on a tough comparison, was not a surprise…but we’d characterize the sequential, seasonally adjusted increase as further evidence of resilient, but still soft freight demand,” wrote the report’s author Tim Denoyer, ACT Research vice president and senior analyst. “With retail sales broadly growing in line with inflation rates, it’s clear that peak holiday shipping volumes were flattish in real terms versus a year ago. Normal seasonality from here would have shipments back in positive territory [annually] in 1H’23, but sharpening declines in imports, into the West Coast in particular, suggest near-term trends may soften further.”
December expenditures—at 4.231—fell 4.3% annually, following October and November annual gains of 11.1% and 4.7%, respectively. Expenditures were up 37.5% on a two-year stacked change basis, and they were down 5.5% compared to November and down 5.2% compared to November on SA basis.
The report observed that total 2022 expenditures increased 23% annually, following a record 38% annual gain in 2021, with expenditures “set to retrench in 2023.”