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Truckload Rates Improve, Intermodal Continues to Weaken

January 15, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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Truckload linehaul rates turned in their best month-over-month improvement of last year during December, while intermodal rates continued falling from year-ago levels, according to just-released figures.

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index increased 2.1% last month from November to 127.8, but showed only a 1.1% year-over-year gain. The index grew 1.6% and 1.9% year over year in November and October, respectively.

With softening demand and more available capacity, 2016 forecasted price increases remain between 1% and 3%, according to analysts with the investment banking firm Avondale Partners, which provides analysis of the report.

That analysis also pointed to the negative imbalance between truckload spot and contract pricing. With the spot market tending to lead contract pricing directionally, and with the spot market seeing the type of drops not seen since 2009, “current spot market weaknesses have lasted long enough to begin to be troubling,” Avondale said.

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 reflection of trends in baseline truckload prices.

Meantime, the Cass Intermodal Price Index dropped another 3.8% year-over-year in December to 127.2, following declines of 2.4% in November and 3.2% in October.

This caps 12 consecutive months of year-over-year declines. Since the index inception in 2004, this drop is second only to the 13 months from December 2008 through December 2009 -- although this most recent cumulative decline is considerably less than that experienced throughout ’09.

Although analysts at Avondale Partners expect intermodal volumes to grow in the low single digits, they predict “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.”

When the December intermodal index is compared to November, it posted one of the few month-over-month increases of 2015, moving up 1.5% following a November decline of 3.5% and an October gain of 3.9%

The 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 the indices is derived from invoices paid by freight payment processor Cass Information Systems, which totaled more than $26 billion in 2014.

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