Pricing picture for truckload and intermodal remains positive, says Cass and Broughton Capital

An ongoing pricing surge remains intact for both truckload and intermodal activity, according to the most recent editions of the Truckload Linehaul Index and Intermodal Index from Cass Information Systems and Broughton Capital.

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An ongoing pricing surge remains intact for both truckload and intermodal activity, according to the most recent editions of the Truckload Linehaul Index and Intermodal Index from Cass Information Systems and Broughton Capital.

This pricing data is part of the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index and the Cass Intermodal Linehaul Index, which were both created in late 2011. The indices are based on actual freight invoices paid on behalf of Cass clients, which accounts for more than $23 billion annually and uses 2005 as its base month.

Cass Broughton Capital said the truckload index “isolates” the linehaul component of full truckload costs from other components such as fuel and accessorials, which in turn provides an accurate reflection of trends in baseline truckload prices.

Truckload rates, which measure linehaul rates, rose 6.5% in February to 131.3, which, according to the index, is the strongest percentage increase to date in the current recovery, following November, December, and January, which were up 6.3%, 6.2%, and 6.3%, respectively. This was in line with December’s 134.5, which is an all-time high.

“Pricing for trucking is growing ever stronger and ‘gaining momentum’ continues to be an understatement,” wrote Broughton Capital Managing Director Donald Broughton in the report. “After signaling an industrial recession in the U.S. and being negative for 13 months in a row (from March 2016 through March 2017), the Cass TL linehaul index has not only been positive now for 11 months in a row, but the strength is continuing unfalteringly. We believe this is the strongest normalized percentage level of TL pricing achieved since deregulation (normalized meaning except for extreme periods of recovery from recession). The current strength being reported in spot rates by DAT Solutions is leading us to believe contract pricing rates should keep rates in positive territory well into 2018.”

Other factors driving pricing gains, according to the report, include:

  • a reacceleration in the consumer economy, which is growing at the fastest pace since the 2008-2009 recession;
  • trucking failure rate/bankruptcies having fallen to historical levels, with virtually no removal of capacity being a negative to pricing especially in the spot market; and
  • the difficulty in finding a truck to move a load, coupled with the expenses needed to hire a truck when one is secured

And it added that both spot and contract rates are “strong and getting stronger,” and the start of the year re-bid process now off and running, means the current capacity shortage could not come at a better time for the trucking industry.

On the intermodal side, the index stated that total intermodal pricing headed up 5.4% annually to 137.9 in February, with the three-month moving average up 4.8%. This follows gains of 5.0% in January, 4.0% in December, 3.9% in November, and 1.9% in October.

What’s more, it pointed out that this marks the 17th consecutive month of gains, with pricing momentum improving.

“Tight truckload capacity and higher diesel prices are creating incremental demand and pricing power for domestic intermodal,” wrote Broughton, adding that diesel prices at around $3 per gallon serve as a positive contributing factor for both demand and pricing.

As for intermodal volumes, Broughton explained that domestic container shipment volume may head up at a mid-to-high single digit pace in 2018, with the caveat that this growth depends on diesel prices staying at current levels or higher, as well as demand in longer lengths of haul growing at a clip that is able to offset the potential loss of volume in shorter lengths of haul, especially in the eastern U.S.

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