Cass Transportation Index Report April 2023

Get the most up-to-date data and insights into shipping volumes and the cost of freight. See how they change each month and understand the market forces behind them.

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On the Verge

  April 2023 Year-over-year change 2-year stacked change Month-to-month change Month-to-month change (SA*)
Cass Freight Index - Shipments 1.144 -2.4% -2.9% -1.0% -1.3%
Cass Freight Index - Expenditures 3.877 -14.0% 12.3% -2.1% -4.0%
Cass Inferred Freight Rates 3.389 -11.9% NA -1.2% -2.7%
Truckload Linehaul Index 146.6 -9.6% 3.2% -0.6% --


* SA = seasonally adjusted

Cass Freight Index - Shipments

The shipments component of the Cass Freight Index® fell 2.4% y/y in April as freight markets remain muted and continue to work through an extended soft patch.

  • In seasonally adjusted (SA) terms, the index declined 1.3% m/m in April, following a sizable 3.8% m/m drop in March.
  • Amid the ongoing soft backdrop, warm weather appears to have pulled some freight into January/February this year from March/April.
  • But several higher frequency freight data series started April very soft and improved through the month and into May. This augers toward at least a seasonal improvement in May, though the y/y decline may still worsen on a tough comp against inventory building a year ago. 


Cass Freight Index-Shipments-April 2023


Declining real retail sales trends and ongoing destocking remain the primary headwinds to freight volumes, but dynamics are shifting as real incomes are improving, and the worst of the destock is most likely in the rearview.

Normal seasonality from the April index level suggests 1%-3% y/y declines for the next few months.


See the Methodology for the Cass Freight Index


Cass Freight Index - Expenditures

The expenditures component of the Cass Freight Index, which measures the total amount spent on freight, fell 2.1% m/m and 14.0% y/y in April.

With shipments down 1.0% m/m in March, we infer rates were down 1.2% m/m (see our inferred rates data series below).

  • On a seasonally adjusted basis, the expenditures index declined 4.0% m/m, with shipments down 1.3% and inferred rates down 2.7%.  

This index includes changes in fuel, modal mix, intramodal mix, and accessorial charges, so is a bit more volatile than the cleaner Cass Truckload Linehaul Index®.

The expenditures component of the Cass Freight Index rose 23% in 2022, after a record 38% increase in 2021, but is set to decline about 12% in 2023, assuming normal seasonal patterns from here.

Cass Freight Index-Expenditures-April 2023


Inferred Freight Rates

The rates embedded in the two components of the Cass Freight Index declined 11.9% y/y in April, after falling 8.3% in March.

  • Cass Inferred Freight Rates decreased 1.2% m/m after a 0.4% decline in March. Seasonally adjusted, inferred rates were down 2.7% m/m, due to modal mix shifts, lower fuel prices, and market pressure.
  • Fuel prices are transitioning from an inflationary factor to a deflationary one as we pass the anniversary of the fuel price spikes that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Additionally, recent OPEC production cuts have failed to support oil prices as demand declines.  
  • We estimate lower fuel prices will knock about 5% off freight rates y/y starting mid-Q2.
  • While fuel is a big factor, there’s clearly also still market pressure on rates.
  • Based on the normal seasonal pattern of this index, freight rates would increase y/y in May, but the mix noise which pressed inferred rates higher in April seems unlikely to recur, so further declines seem more likely.


Cass Inferred Freight Rates-April 2023


Cass Inferred Freight Rates are a simple calculation of the Cass Freight Index data—expenditures divided by shipments—producing a data set that explains the overall movement in cost per shipment. The data set is diversified among all modes, with truckload (TL) representing more than half of the dollars, followed by less-than-truckload (LTL), rail, parcel, and so on.


Download the Data

Truckload Linehaul Index

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, which measures changes in linehaul rates, fell 0.8% m/m in April to 146.6, after a 0.6% m/m decline in March.

  • On a y/y basis, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index fell 12.3% y/y in April after a 9.6% y/y decline in March.
  • As a broad truckload market indicator, this index includes both spot and contract freight. With spot rates already down significantly, the larger contract market is likely to continue adjusting down, if more gradually, but in the same direction. 


Cass Truckload Linehaul Index-April 2023


See the Methodology for the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index


Freight Expectations

When conditions will improve is a topic largely reserved for ACT Freight Forecast subscribers. But after a long soft patch, we see the U.S. freight transportation industry on the verge of a new cycle as we begin to transition from the bottoming phase into the early phase of the freight cycle in the months to come.

Of course, demand recovery is an important part of the outlook, but supply trends are shifting as well. Although new equipment production is elevated, we estimate DOT operating authorities have been declining for about seven months now, and employment is broadly following suit.

Though the total trucking employment data series rose by 3,000 jobs in April, March was revised down by 2,500 jobs, leaving little net change. However, the long-distance trucking employment series is telling a different story, and this series is more tightly related to truckload freight markets. 


Truck Transportation Employement Long Distance 2023


In contrast to the 5,400-job increase in total trucking employment so far this year through April (+2,400 in Q1), long-haul trucking jobs declined by 8,700 jobs in Q1’23, or 1.0%, as shown in the chart. While still up 3.0% y/y in that latest March data point, the series will be down on a y/y basis by June on its current level. Since trends in employment follow trends in freight rates, long-haul jobs are set to decline this year.  

For more on the future direction of freight markets, the ACT Research Freight Forecast provides analysis and forecasts for a broad range of U.S. freight measures, including the Cass Freight Index, Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, and DAT spot and contract rates by trailer type. The service provides monthly, quarterly, and annual predictions for the TL, LTL, and intermodal markets over a two- to three-year time horizon, including capacity, volumes, and rates. The Freight Forecast is released monthly in conjunction with this report.

How have their forecasts performed? For 2022, ACT’s forecasts for the shipments component of the Cass Freight Index were 97.5% accurate on average for the 24-month forecast period. Our January 2021 forecast, two full years out, was 99.8% accurate. 

(As a reminder, ACT Research’s Tim Denoyer writes this report.)


ACT Research Forecasts Cass Freight Index2



ACT Research’s full-year 2022 DAT spot rate forecasts were 99.7% accurate from Q2’21 (19-21 months out) for dry van and 98.5% for reefer. DAT dry van spot rates, net fuel, finished 2022 at $2.06 per mile, in line with our forecasts to the penny from 18 and 19 months out (June and July 2021). 


ACT Forecast Accuracy DAT Dry Van Spot-x



Release date: We strive to release our indexes on the 13th of each month. When this falls on a Friday or weekend, our goal is to publish on the next business day.

Tim Denoyer head

About the Author: Tim Denoyer, ACT Research

Tim Denoyer joined ACT Research in 2017, after spending fifteen years in equity research focused primarily on the transportation, machinery, and automotive industries. Tim is a senior analyst leading ACT’s team transportation research effort, and the primary author of the ACT Freight Forecast, U.S. Rate and Volume Outlook. Research associate Carter Vieth, who joined ACT in early 2020 after graduating from Indiana University, also contributes to the report. This report provides supply chain professionals with better visibility on the future of pricing and volume in trucking, the core of the $1.06 trillion U.S. freight transportation industry, including truckload, less-than-truckload, and intermodal.

Tim also plays roles in ACT Research’s core Class 4-8 commercial vehicle data analysis and forecasting, in powertrain development, such as electrification analysis, and in used truck valuation and forecasting. Tim has supported or led numerous project-based market studies on behalf of clients in his four years with ACT Research on topics ranging from upcoming emissions and environmental regulations to alternative powertrain cost analyses to e-commerce and last-mile logistics to autonomous freight market sizing.

ACT’s freight research service leverages ACT’s expertise in the supply side economics of transportation and draws upon Tim’s background as an investment analyst, beginning at Prudential and Bear Stearns. Tim was a co-founder of Wolfe Research, one of the leading equity research firms in the investment industry. While with Wolfe, Tim was recognized in Institutional Investor’s survey of investors as a Rising Star analyst in both the machinery and auto sectors. His experience also includes responsibility for covering the industrial sector of the global equity markets, including with leading investment management company Balyasny Asset Management.


The material contained herein is intended as general industry commentary. The Cass Freight Index, Cass Truckload Linehaul Index (“Indexes”), and other content are based upon information that we consider reliable, but Cass does not guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, reliability, continued availability or completeness of any information or underlying assumptions, and Cass shall have no liability for any errors, omissions or interruptions. Any data on past performance contained in the Indexes is no guarantee as to future performance. The Indexes and other content are not intended to predict actual results, and no assurances are given with respect thereto. Cass makes no warranty, express or implied. Opinions expressed herein as to the Indexes are those of Stifel and may differ from those of Cass Information Systems Inc. All opinions and estimates are given as of the date hereof and are subject to change.

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