FTR's Shippers Condition Index remained in low territory in February, meaning carriers are continuing to gain leverage over rates. FTR expects the index, which was at -5.2 in February, to fall further as the outlook for capacity shortages worsen in the seasonally strong spring months.

Total shipping costs will accelerate rapidly driven by growth in transport costs. The SCI sums up all market influences that affect shippers; a reading above zero suggests a favorable shipping environment, while a reading below zero is unfavorable.

"Shippers should not be heartened by the modest upward movement in the index this month," said Noel Perry, senior consultant for FTR. "That is simply the effect of the normal seasonal weakness of freight in February. The March number will drop sharply as the spring surge in freight arrives."

The Shippers Update, launched by FTR Associates during 2010 as a part of the firm's Freight Focus Series, looks at conditions that will affect the cost and efficiency of shipping goods via all transportation modes. FTR Associates, located in Nashville, Ind., has been doing transportation forecasting for over 20 years.