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Fewer shipments, higher trucking costs in 4th quarter: U.S. Bank

Quarterly numbers show a market that suffered from restrained capacity

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

U.S. truck shipment totals slowed in the fourth quarter, but the cost of moving those goods increased, according to the quarterly report by U.S. Bank.

The bank is a major processor of invoices. It has data on the cost of moving freight, the number of shipments moved and how long it took to move them.

Fourth-quarter freight shipments were down 5.1% compared to the corresponding quarter of 2020. But U.S. Bank (NYSE: USB) also reported that sequentially, fourth-quarter shipments were down 2.4% from the third quarter of 2021. 

With four quarters in the books for 2021, the bank reported that shipments were down 0.5% from 2020 and 4.5% from the prior year. 

In his comments about the index, Bobby Holland, a U.S. Bank vice president and director of FreightData Solutions, said the trucking sector at the end of 2021 faced “a lack of available drivers, trucks and trailers. This is increasing costs for shippers and making it more difficult for carriers to haul more freight.”

But the decline in the amount of freight shipped did not translate into a reduction in costs. The U.S. Bank Spend Index rose 8.4% compared to the third quarter. Even more notable was the full-year figure, which was up 26.5% from 2020 and 21.5% over 2019.

Graphic: U.S. Bank

Within that national data are significant regional differences. The weakest region for shipments was the West, which U.S. Bank attributes to the decline in volumes coming out of backed-up ports. Fourth-quarter shipments for the West were down 6.4% from the third quarter but spending was up 12%. Compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, shipments were up 2.5% and the spend was up 29%.

Midwest shipments, for the second consecutive quarter, were down sequentially, dropping 2.9% compared to the third quarter and 12% compared to the fourth quarter of 2020. But fourth-quarter spending rose 6.7% from the third quarter and was up 15.8% from the quarter a year earlier. U.S. Bank said a decline in auto production is impacting shipment numbers in that region. 

Other key regions and their differences:

Northeast: shipments down 1.6% sequentially, fourth quarter from third quarter and down 1.2% from Q4 2020. Spending up 8% sequentially in the fourth quarter and 23.8% from the quarter a year earlier. U.S. Bank said spending in the region was at a record high. 

Southeast: shipments down 1.5% sequentially, fourth quarter from third quarter, down from 4.7% from Q4 2020. Spending up 8.4% sequentially in the fourth quarter and 18.7% from the quarter a year earlier. 

Southwest: shipments up 0.7% sequentially, fourth quarter from third quarter and 2.2% from Q4 2020. Spending up 7.9% sequentially in the fourth quarter and 20.4% from the quarter a year earlier. The Southwest was the only region with a sequential increase in shipments, and U.S. Bank cited higher crude production and cross-border trade with Mexico.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.