An increase in shipment volumes in February reversed a four-month, downward slide, putting freight levels back on par with 2012, according to the latest Cass Freight Index report.
Freight shipments were up 5.6 percent in February over January’s 4.8-percent sequential drop, enough to put freight shipments 0.5 percent ahead of February 2012 levels.
The turn-around followed four consecutive months of declines but still puts 2013 at only 0.6 percent of December 2012.
February’s uptick is attributed to a strong showing for rail over the last four weeks, with carloadings up 3.7 percent and intermodal units up 6.9 percent over the four weeks prior.
It should be noted that the Cass shipments index is not a reflection of tonnage carried.
Freight expenditures rose 1.8 percent in February but still remain 1 percent below the same period last year. The economy’s weak performance has prevented carriers from implementing large rate increases, the Cass report stated, with most of February’s expenditure growth coming from heavier loads and fuel surcharges.
All transportation modes have been experiencing up-and-down shifts in volume for the last eight months, with no signs of change for the coming months.
The report says although there are “strong indicators” of improvement in the general economy, “many of them do not translate to improvements in the freight logistics market” while still others “signal weak demand for freight.”
February was a “mixed bag of economic indicators,” said the report. On the plus side is housing, with sales of new and existing homes picking up and building permits — even better for trucking — hit their highest level in four years.
Also, automobile and small truck sales have been brisk for three months, giving truckers even more to haul.
And consumer sentiment is up despite household income being hit.
On the negative side, however, still to be figured in are the impacts of the Sequester with government spending cuts and personnel furloughs, payroll tax hikes, higher fuel prices, a sagging global economy, weak job growth, high unemployment and rising operational costs.
“The impact of government spending cuts will not hit all at once and will have long-term effects on the economy, but it is difficult to gauge them right now,” the report noted.
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