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Market rise stalls, but remains ahead for the year, according to two indices

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Two of the freight industry’s leading indices reflect a market that isn’t rising significantly sequentially but is still solidly above 2017 levels.  

— The American Trucking Associations’ For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index for November on a seasonally-adjusted basis was up 118.9 from 118.4 in October. For the last several months, it has been reasonably steady with no clear upward or downward pattern. In July, it was up 1.9% from the prior month; in August, down 1.8 percent; September, down 0.8 percent; and October, up 6.3% originally but now revised down to a  5% gain.

— But the not-seasonally-adjusted index, based more on actual tonnage without adjusting for the season, which was 119 in November. That’s a 3 percent decline from October.

— Although growth in the ATA index has cooled, the comparisons to 2017 remain strong. The index was up 7.6 percent from November 2017, though that was down slightly from the October comparison of 8.1 percent.

–The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index was up 7.9 percent year-on-year in November. But the sequential comparison with October was down, declining off that month’s number of 143.4. That was an all-time high for the index.

— In discussion of the intermodal price index, Donald Broughton, an analyst and commentator on the Cass Indexes, noted that the decline in fuel prices might be cutting into one of the advantages that intermodal services have held in recent months. The Broughton comment discusses the decline in oil prices from $70 to less than $55; levels have sunk below $50 since then. “”Tight truckload capacity and higher diesel prices were creating incremental demand and pricing power for domestic intermodal,” Broughton was quoted as saying. “However, with the recent decline…we are now expecting the price of fuel’s positive influence on the demand and pricing power for intermodal services to decrease in coming months.”

— The all-in Intermodal Price Index was up 10.6 percent compared to October 2017. (The intermodal number is a month behind the Truckload number). But it too, at 144.4, was down slightly from the October level of 147.3 which like the truckload linehaul index was a record level. The year-on-year comparisons have now risen for 26 consecutive months.

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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.
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