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Cass freight indexes continue record climbs, while spot market rates hold steady

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The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index reached another record high in October while the company’s Intermodal Price Index points to rising intermodal costs.

October’s Cass Truckload Linehaul Index rose 8.2% year-over-year in October to 143.4. “We expect more nominal record highs in the coming months, with slightly lower percentage increases as comparisons grow increasingly tough through February,” said Donald Broughton, analyst and commentator for the Cass indexes.

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index is an indicator of per-mile truckload pricing by isolating the linehaul component of full truckload costs.

Broughton noted that the realized contract pricing forecast for 2018 has been between 6% and 12% and is complete. “We believe that this is the strongest normalized percentage level of truckload pricing achieved since deregulation,” he said.

On the intermodal side, Cass reported a 10.9% year-over-year increase in intermodal pricing in October. The Intermodal Price Index is now at an all-time high of 147.3, surpassing the previous high of 143.2 set in March of this year.

October was the 25th consecutive month of increases.

“Tight truckload capacity and higher diesel prices continue to create incremental demand and pricing power for domestic intermodal,” said Broughton. “Although it had been higher until recently, we continue to foresee oil trading in the $45 to $65 range and diesel in the $2.50 to $3.25 range.”

FreightWaves’ market analyst Zach Strickland reported last week on the changes happening in the freight markets, noting that volatility has returned to the market.

“Volatility is a sign of an uncertain market,” he wrote in his latest market analysis. “The buyers (shippers) and sellers (carriers) in the freight marketplace are in a constant state of cat and mouse as they rely on previous years’ information to predict when the market will turn. The past 18 months have been anything but predictable, and shippers and carriers are struggling to discern how much capacity and volume are in the market.”

Strickland, using SONAR data, said that volume dropped significantly in early October but started to recover midway through the month, finishing October off just 3% from March 1 volumes.

DAT said that spot market freight availability hit a yearly-low in October, dropping 7% month-over-month, and 33% from October 2017. DAT attributed the drop to severe weather in Asia and severe weather along the U.S. East Coast.

“We expected a seasonal rebound in October but it was interrupted by Hurricanes Florence and Michael in the Southeastern U.S., as well as Typhoon Mangkhut in Hong Kong,” said DAT market analyst Peggy Dorf. “Some of that demand for truckload capacity has shifted into early November, with imported goods moving from sea ports to regional distribution centers across the country.”

Rates, though, are holding steady. Van rates for the week ending Nov. 10 remained at $2.09 per mile. Flatbed rates saw a slight dip to $2.43 per mile, a 2-cent drop from the week before, but reefer rates are climbing, likely due to food movement to stores ahead of Thanksgiving, DAT said. Reefer rates climbed 4 cents to $2.45 per mile while the reefer load-to-truck ratio jumped 4%.

Loads for the week climbed 1.1% from the week before, but so did capacity, which was up 4.4%. The van load-to-truck ratio fell 9% while the flatbed load-to-truck ratio was up 2.2% for the week.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]