Fleet Management

Truckload Linehaul Rates Drop, Intermodal Continues Decline

April 19, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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A measure of truckload linehaul rates moved lower last month compared to a year earlier for the first time since May 2010, as intermodal freight rates continued their downward slide.

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index of 125.7 was 0.6% lower in March compared to the same time in 2015. The figure is 1.2% higher than it was in February, following two straight monthly drops totaling 2.8%.

The investment banking firm Avondale Partners, which provides analysis of the report, indicated that risks remain to the downside of their 2016 forecast pricing range, which is between falling 1% to increasing 2%.

The bearish tone is due largely to continued truck over-capacity, which “is a negative to pricing especially in the spot market.”

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, the Cass Intermodal Price Index continued its decline, falling another 3% in March from a year earlier, its 15th straight month of year-over-year declines.

The index increased to 129.2 from the month before with a 3.6% gain in March from February. That was not enough to erase the February drop of 3.9% from January.

Analysts with Avondale Partners “expect intermodal rates will continue to decline in 2016 as the dramatic drop in diesel prices and even more dramatic drop in oil takes its toll on U.S. domestic demand.”

Historically, there is a "high degree of correlation between truckload and intermodal pricing," they said. As contract rates for trucking continue to lose strength and move into negative territory, “[this] would imply even more potential weakness for intermodal pricing."

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. It is based on costs as of January 2005 and uses a base value of 100.

Data within both measures is derived from actual freight invoices paid on behalf of clients of payment processor Cass Information Systems, which totaled $25 billion in 2015.

Both reports come as little surprise following the release on Monday of the Cass Freight Index report for March showing that growth in overall freight shipments moderated while spending on freight shipments fell.

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