FTR Associates' Shippers Conditions Index for December edged up roughly 1.5 points from November to a reading of -4.6, which still reflects a somewhat adverse environment for shippers.

The small improvement reflected a slight easing in demand for transport capacity.

"FTR's base case anticipates that conditions will continue to be difficult for the nation's shippers, even though economic growth is still anticipated to be lackluster," says Larry Gross, senior consultant for FTR. "If the recent spate of good economic news translates into more robust economic growth, capacity would tighten significantly and greater upward pressure on freight rates will result."

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. FTR's February Shippers Update, published Feb. 10, reports that the tight equilibrium between demand and transport capacity will keep the Shippers Conditions Index stable in modestly negative territory until 2013, when it will slip further due to regulatory drag on capacity from the implementation of new hours of service rules.