Truckload shipping rates continue to rise while intermodal shipping continues to get cheaper, according to two of the latest monthly readings, while a wider report of freight transportation showed its seasonal lull.
The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index increased 0.9% in July from the month before, hitting a level of 124.5, due to higher contract rates. This is also 3.6% higher than the same time a year ago, putting the index at its highest level since April.
Compared to two years ago, average truckload linehaul rates are 11% higher.
The analysts at the investment firm Avondale Partners predict increases of 4% to 9% in 2015, according to the report. As far as demand, they “expect the decline in industrial freight flows, especially related to oil and gas exploration, to be more than offset by a stronger consumer backdrop.”
The report also said they are “encouraged by the current growth streak in dry van loads, which are currently tracking toward mid-single digit growth for 2015, which would be the strongest percentage increase performance since 2010.”
The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index is an indicator of market fluctuations in per-mile truckload pricing. It isolates the linehaul component of full truckload costs from other components, such as fuel and accessorials, providing a reflection of trends in baseline truckload prices.
Meantime, the Cass Intermodal Price Index shows rates fell 2.9% below 2014 levels in July. However, the reading of 126.6 was a 2.9% improvement from June and the best month-over-month gain since last December.
The year-over-year decrease came in response to falling demand for intermodal, as lower diesel prices have encouraged mode shifting to truckload, according to Avondale. The ability for shippers to do this will remain limited, however, by tight demand in the trucking sector.
“We have historically observed a high degree of correlation between truckload and intermodal pricing, and know that should truckload rates continue to accelerate in the coming months, intermodal rates would normally follow,” Avondale said in its analysis. “That said, this is only true for the base rate, and the dramatic drop in fuel surcharges for truckers has to put pressure on domestic intermodal rates, especially in shorter lengths of haul.”
The Cass Intermodal Price Index is an indicator of market fluctuations in per-mile U.S. domestic intermodal costs that includes all charges associated with the move, such as linehaul, fuel and accessorials.
Data within both measures is based on actual freight invoices paid on behalf of Cass Information Systems clients, totaling over $23 billion in 2013.
These two reports follow the Cass Freight Index Report for July, which measures the wider monthly levels of the volume of shipments and expenditures for domestic freight movements in a variety of transportation modes.
It showed North American shipment volumes and their related costs both trailed downward in July, keeping in line with the seasonal patterns of the last five years.
The number of shipments fell 1.1% last month from the same time a year earlier while also decreasing 1.6% from June.
Expenditures declined even more, posting a 6.4% year-over-year drop and 4.5% falloff in July from the month before, the latter being only the second drop this year.
July is traditionally a slow month for freight, as it lies between the surges of back‐to‐school and the holidays, according to Rosalyn Wilson, supply chain expert, and senior business analyst with the management services firm Parsons, who provides analysis for the report.
“Although both indexes are below last year’s levels at this time, they compare quite favorably with prior years,” she said. “There should be an element of caution when comparing 2015 results to 2014, since last year was the best year the freight sector has experienced since the recession.”
She said to expect a significant increase in overall shipment volumes in August, as the holiday season approaches, after retailers cut back on new orders for merchandise in April and May due to high inventories.
“Comparing to the previous several years demonstrates that the economy is exiting its prolonged dormant state and consumers are finally leading the way,” Wilson said. “For the remainder of the year, both imports and exports should pick up, domestic production will gain strength, and consumers will spend.”