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Truckload Rates Continue Struggling, Intermodal Pricing Continues Surge

April 24, 2017

By Evan Lockridge

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Truckload linehaul rates struggled in March, according to a recently released measure, while intermodal rates moved higher for another consecutive month.

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index declined 0.9% from the same time a year ago to a reading of 124.5, its lowest level since January.

Analysts at the investment firm Broughton Capital, which provides analysis of the report, said even with the measure increasing 1% in March from February, truckload linehaul rates continue to be under pressure with the year-over-year performance down for the 13th consecutive month.

“This is consistent with the pre-announcements of lower earnings by several of the larger trucking companies,” Broughton Capital said. “Our pricing forecast for 2017 is now -1% to 2%, as the current strength being reported in spot rates by DAT Solutions is leading us to believe contract pricing rates should move back into positive territory at least on a sequential (month-over-month) 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, recorded its sixth straight year-over-year improvement in March, hitting a level of 135.4, its best reading since April 2014.

It showed intermodal pricing rose 4.8% year-over-year in March after February's 4.9% increase while March was 3.5% better than the month before.  

“We expect intermodal rates to show better strength in 2017 than were achieved in 2016,” Broughton Capital said. “Simply put, the current level of demand and pricing will produce a positive year over year comparison for the next nine to 10 months.”

Helping push intermodal rates higher, has been the fact that diesel fuel prices have recovered, due in part to higher oil prices, with Broughton forecasting diesel to be in a range of $2.25 to $2.75 per gallon throughout this year.

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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