Fleet Management

Increased Capacity Hurts Truckload Rates, Low Fuel Prices Hit Intermodal

February 24, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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Truckload rates grew at a weaker pace for the fifth consecutive month in January, according to newly released numbers, while intermodal rates are expected to continue a drop that started a year ago.

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index increased only 0.4% from the same time a year earlier to a reading of 125.8. This follows smaller increases that began in September when the year earlier gain was 3.2%, falling to 1.9% in October, 1.6% in November and 1.1% in December.

This latest gauge is also down 1.6% in January from the month before, following a 2.1% improvement in December from November.

According to analysts at the investment banking firm Avondale Partners, which provides analysis of the report, softening demand and increasing capacity are posing downside risks to their previously forecasted 1% to 3% increases this year.

Avondale also cited other factors providing downward pricing pressure, including carrier bankruptcies at historic lows, truck counts up by single digits and the relaxation of the 34-hour restart rule for drivers, which increased truck capacity.

The index is an indicator of market fluctuations in per-mile truckload pricing that isolates the linehaul component of full truckload costs from other components, such as fuel and accessorials, providing a look at trends in baseline truckload prices.

Meantime, a gauge of another freight transport sector looks worse, with the Cass Intermodal Price Index falling another 2.2% in January from the same time in 2015, after declines of 3.8% in December and 2.4% in November.

Despite this, its reading of 129.8 is the best since October, with January seeing a 2% increase from the month before following a 1.5% improvement in December from November.

“We expect intermodal rates will continue to decline in 2016 as the dramatic drop in diesel prices … takes its toll on U.S. domestic demand,” said Avondale. "[Consequently] the around 35 cents per mile decline in fuel surcharges collected by truckers in the last year and a half has to challenge demand and pricing power for domestic intermodal."

The index has posted a year-over-year decline every month since January 2015, when it was at 132.8

The Cass Intermodal Price Index is an indicator of market fluctuations in per-mile U.S. domestic intermodal costs that includes all costs associated with the move, such as linehaul, fuel and accessorials.

Data within both measures is derived from actual freight invoices paid by freight payment processor Cass Information Systems for its clients, which totaled over $26 billion in 2014.

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