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Intermodal Freight Rates Jump, Truckload Linehaul Slips

Intermodal rates rose in January by the largest amount in more than two years, while truckload linehaul rates retreated, according to one measure.

The Cass Intermodal Price Index rose 3.8% in January from the same time in 2016, the largest year-over-year increase since October 2014, due largely to a nearly 22% increase in fuel cost over the past year. The reading of 134.7 also marks a 4.3% increase from December 2016 and puts the index at its highest level since April 2014.

Although diesel fuel prices have recovered from their early 2016 lows, "we do not expect a significant amount of sequential strength from intermodal," said the investment firm Avondale Partners, which provides analysis of the report. “But the current level of demand and pricing will produce a positive year-over-year  comparison for the next nine to 10 months.”

The Cass Intermodal Price Index is an indicator of market fluctuations in per-mile U.S. domestic intermodal costs, that includes all costs associated with the move, such as linehaul, fuel and accessorials.

Meantime, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index was 0.3% lower in January than the same time a year ago, after falling 0.9% and 1.5% in December and November, respectively. The January reading of 125.4 is also down 1% compared to December, following a 2.6% gain from November.

Although this represents 11 consecutive months of year-over-year declines, the drop in January was the smallest over that time frame.

The good news, according to Avondale Partners Analyst Donald Broughton, is that after an extended period of soft demand and excess capacity, "we are...seeing some improvements in pricing power of truckers.”

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index is an indicator of market fluctuations in per-mile truckload pricing that isolates the linehaul component of full truckload costs from others, such as fuel and accessorials, providing a reflection of trends in baseline truckload prices.

Data within both measures comes from actual freight invoices paid on behalf of clients of freight payment processor Cass Information Services.

February 21, 2017

By Evan Lockridge- HDT>Trucking info