Cass Transportation Index Report December 2021

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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It Wasn't Cheap, But the Freight Came Through

  December 2021 Year-over-year change 2-year stacked change Month-to-month change Month-to-month change (SA)
Cass Freight Index - Shipments 1.208 7.7% 14.8% 0.2% 4.2%
Cass Freight Index - Expenditures 4.419 43.6% 62.3% 3.4% 6.6%
Truckload Linehaul Index 148.0 8.0% 9.2% -1.0% -1.0%


Cass Freight Index - Shipments

The U.S. transportation sector delivered in time for the holidays as the shipments component of the Cass Freight Index® accelerated to 7.7% y/y growth in December from 4.5% in November.

Though virtually unchanged m/m, the Cass shipments index jumped 4.2% from November to December on a seasonally adjusted (SA) basis, as shipment volumes held firm despite the normal holiday slowdown.

Though the record backlog of 105 containerships off Southern California and sharp declines in intermodal volumes in early 2022 still demonstrate capacity constraints on freight volumes, the strong finish to 2021 shows progress as the trucking industry has begun to build driver and equipment capacity in spite of extraordinary challenges.


Cass Freight Shipments Index December 2021

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, rose to another new record level of 4.419, up 44% y/y in December and 3.4% m/m.

  • On a seasonally adjusted basis, expenditures were literally off the chart (not to worry, the axis has been adjusted), rising 6.6% m/m in December, with a slightly larger contribution from higher volumes, and to a lesser degree from higher rates.
  • On a two-year stacked basis, the Expenditures component of the Cass Freight Index was up 62% in December, with shipments up 15% and rates up 41%.

This index rose 38% in 2021, after a 7% decline in 2020 and no change in 2019. Tougher comparisons in the coming months will naturally slow these y/y increases, but just using normal seasonality from here, the increase in 2022 will still be about 25% at this trend level.


Cass Freight Expenditures Index December 2021


Inferred Freight Rates

A simple calculation of the Cass Freight Index data (expenditures divided by shipments) produces a data set of inferred freight rates that explains the overall movement in cost per shipment.

  • The freight rates embedded in the two components of the Cass Freight Index decelerated to a 33% y/y increase in December from 38% in November.
  • Cass Inferred Freight Rates rose another 3.5% m/m on a seasonally adjusted basis in December, to a new record.
  • Significant excess miles in the freight network are persisting into 2022 as the economy faces ongoing disruptions. Chassis production improved significantly in Q4’21, but only enough to turn the direction of the chassis fleet from contraction to slight growth, and the chassis fleet remains far from what is needed to address rail network congestion.

This tight intermodal offtake capacity continues to press imports into the truckload market, particularly off the West Coast, raising the truckload length of haul (LOH) 20% y/y in December as trucking continues to take share from a challenged rail network.


Weekly North American Rail Volumes 010822


These excess miles are a significant part of the 33% y/y increase in inferred freight rates, because, as noted in the calculation above, these rates are on a per shipment basis, rather than a per mile basis. Higher fuel surcharges, modal mix, and accessorial fees are also factors which are not reflected in the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index. With a higher proportion of smaller LTL shipments in December, modal mix worked to slow the increase this month.

For full-year 2021, Cass Inferred Freight Rates rose 23% from 2020, and heading into 2022 are up even more than that on a y/y basis, albeit likely to slow from the 33% increase in December. The data set is diversified among all modes, with truckload representing more than half of the dollars, followed by LTL, rail, parcel, and so on.


Cass Inferred Rates Index December 2021

 Download the data

Truckload Linehaul Index

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index® fell 1.5 points in December to 148.0 from 149.5 in November, down 1.0% m/m and up just 8.0% y/y, slower than the 9.6% increase in November.

  • This data series trends below the 22% increase in public Q3 TL fleet rates due to a large increase in LOH resulting from rail service issues pressing longer-haul shipments onto the highways. Accessorials are also part of the difference, but likely much smaller than the mix effects from longer LOH, which reduce the rate per mile even as cost per shipment rises.
  • We estimate longer LOH alone (with its accompanying lower linehaul rates) lowered this index by about 3% in December.

Strong freight demand and tight capacity are continuing to press this index higher, but have been more than outweighed in the past two months by mix. As chassis capacity gradually recovers and rail congestion eases over the course of 2022, a reversal to shorter length of haul will likely add upward pressure to this index above and beyond market rate increases.


Cass Truckload Linehaul Index December 2021

See the methodology for the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index.


Freight Expectations

The U.S. freight cycle has been on the upswing since mid-2020. Fundamentals remain positive, with a strong consumer balance sheet and significant additional need for restocking.

While signs that an easing in the everything shortage were beginning to emerge prior to the Omicron wave, the challenges to industry capacity are worsening again as 2022 begins. Absenteeism is surging across drivers, maintenance staff, and administrative personnel at transportation companies, and the effects of the latest COVID variant on factory workers will likely slow the recovery in equipment production.

But Omicron is likely to be more needle-shaped than prior variants, and after the spike in cases, there is a silver lining that its milder symptoms may broadly reduce pandemic risks, which will have major implications for freight market dynamics.

The ACT Freight Forecast report provides monthly predictions for the truckload, LTL, and intermodal markets, including capacity, volumes, and rates, and forecasts for the shipments component of the Cass Freight Index and the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index through 2023.

In March 2021, ACT predicted a 12% increase in the shipments component of the Cass Freight Index for 2021, just two thousandths from the actual result.


Release date: We strive to release our indexes on the 12th 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 $800 billion 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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