Fleet Management

Cass Freight Index Reflects Improving Economy

March 07, 2011

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The Cass Freight Index shows February shipments up 2.6 percent from last month and 11.4 percent from last year, while freight expenditures are up 35 percent year over year.
This index is based on the shipments of hundreds of clients of Cass Information Systems, which process more than $17 billion in annual freight payables.

The index uses January 1990 as its base month. The shipments index for February was 1.036, compared to 0.930 a year ago.

All modes have seen lower-than-expected shipments year to date, thanks to the severe winter storms that caused major delays in freight movement. Nevertheless, truck tonnage volumes rose steadily in February.

More than 11,000 trucking jobs were added in February as about 66,000 jobs were added in the manufacturing and construction sectors, but consumer spending only showed a marginal increase in February.

With freight demand exceeding available capacity, carriers should be able to pass through much of their increased cost of doing business, including rising diesel prices, more expensive new trucks, higher cost of credit, more expensive tires, and compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new CSA enforcement program. Because almost 70 percent of the nation's tonnage is moved by truck, the expected sharp jump in rates will have a significant impact on pices by the third quarter.

"The freight sector is poised for a strong rebound as the year progresses, and the industry is preparing for it - purchasing new equipment (especially intermodal‐related), developing strategies to deal with rising fuel prices, hiring new employees, and returning sidelined equipment back to duty," notes the Cass report. "The nation's economy is forecasted to grow about 3.2 percent. Inflation is returning, but is expected to be moderate at about 2
percent.

"The wildcard at the moment is oil prices, which could very well be affected by the current conflicts in oil-producing nations."

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