Fleet Management

Truckload Linehaul Rates Slip Again, Intermodal Rates Better Than Year Ago

March 21, 2017

By Evan Lockridge

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A measure of truckload linehaul rates fell again in February, but it is expected to improve, according to newly issued figures, while a gauge of intermodal rates posted its largest gain in just over four years.

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, which tracks monthly changes in linehaul rates, declined 0.8% in February compared to the same time in 2016, after falling 0.3% and 0.9% in January and December, respectively. This latest drop and month-over-month declines in both February and January puts the index at a level of 123.3, its lowest reading since last September.

Although this represents twelve consecutive months of year-ago declines, analysts at Avondale Partners have increased their pricing forecast to as much as a 2% year-over-year improvement. 

The investment banking firm, which provides analysis with the numbers, said that "the current strength being reported in spot rates ... is leading us to believe contract pricing rates should move back into positive territory at least on a sequential basis."

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index measures market fluctuations in per-mile truckload pricing that isolates the linehaul component of full truckload costs from others, such as fuel and accessorials, providing a reflection of trends in baseline truckload prices.

Meantime, the Cass Intermodal Price Index, which measures changes in total intermodal per-mile costs, increased 4.9% in February compared to the same time in 2016. That marks the largest year-over-year increase since January 2012. Part of the hike was influenced by the 29% jump in fuel surcharges.

Despite this being the fifth year-over-year increase, the index fell to a February reading of 130.8, which is 2.9% lower than it was in the first month of 2017.

Analysts at Avondale Partners expect intermodal pricing to be stronger than last year, given that the price of diesel fuel has recovered from oversold lows.

"The current level of demand and pricing will produce a positive year-over-year comparison for the next nine to 10 months," said Avondale.

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

Data within both measures comes from actual freight invoices paid on behalf of clients of freight-payment processor Cass Information Services.

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