Cass Transportation Index Report February 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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Cost Savings Build for Shippers

  February 2023 Year-over-year change 2-year stacked change Month-to-month change Month-to-month change (SA*)
Cass Freight Index - Shipments 1.167 -0.3% 3.3% 3.8% -0.3%
Cass Freight Index - Expenditures 4.020 -9.7% 28.4% -1.9% -3.9%
Cass Inferred Freight Rates 3.445 -9.4% NA -5.5% -3.6%
Truckload Linehaul Index 148.6 -6.0% 5.9% -0.4% --


* SA = seasonally adjusted

Cass Freight Index - Shipments

The shipments component of the Cass Freight Index® rose 3.8% m/m in February after a 3.2% m/m decline in January. 

  • In seasonally adjusted (SA) terms, the index was 0.3% lower m/m, extending a streak of remarkable stability from October through February.
  • On a y/y basis, the index turned to a 0.3% decline after rising against an easy comparison in January. Soft real retail sales trends and ongoing destocking remain the primary headwinds to freight volumes, and sharp import declines suggest this type of environment will persist for several more months.


Cass Freight Index Shipments February 2023


There has been a considerable increase in the proportion of truckload (TL) freight over the past several months, amid declines in less-than-truckload (LTL) and intermodal volumes. This suggests freight is migrating to TL from other modes, which fits with the robust growth in truckload capacity metrics, which have hardly started to slow at this point. 


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 1.9% m/m in February, and on some volatile comparisons fell to a 9.7% y/y decline after a 1.7% y/y increase in January.

Looking at the m/m changes, with shipments up 3.8% but total expenditures down, we infer that rates were down 5.5% m/m (see our inferred rates data series below). 

  • On an SA basis, expenditures fell 3.9% m/m in February, with rates down 3.6% and shipments down 0.3%.  

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 retrench in 2023.


Cass Freight Index Expenditures February 2023x



Inferred Freight Rates

The rates embedded in the two components of the Cass Freight Index declined 9.4% y/y in February, after falling 2.4% in January.

  • Cass Inferred Freight Rates were down 5.5% m/m after an unchanged month in January. We estimate about 1% was due to lower fuel costs, and the cumulative decline in diesel prices over the three months through February has lowered freight bills by about 6%. There was also mix pressure in February as truckload gained a little more share from LTL m/m.
  • But even with those caveats, there’s clearly market pressure on rates.
  • Additional market pressures, fuel prices, and the continued migration toward TL from LTL could press this index still lower.
  • Based on the normal seasonal pattern of this index, freight rates should fall similarly to February y/y in the coming months.


Cass Inferred Freight Rates February 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.


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Truckload Linehaul Index

The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index® fell 0.4% m/m in February to 148.6, after a 0.9% m/m decline in January.

  • On a y/y basis, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index® fell 6.0% y/y in February after a 5.6% y/y decline in January.
  • 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 February 2023


See the Methodology for the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index



Freight Expectations

At the risk of stating the obvious, the fundamental reason truckload spot rates are still falling is there are too many drivers chasing too little freight. But the freight market is constantly dynamic, and we expect current loose conditions to first rebalance and then tighten over the course of the next year or so.

The truckload driver population has nearly stopped growing, and we think it will start to contract soon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) trucking employment has already slowed to a 0.3% annualized rate in the seven months through February. In the spot market, capacity has already started to contract as carrier failures have accelerated, as shown in the chart below, assembled by our partners in freight analysis at DAT.

In Q4’22, net failures using Department of Transportation (DOT) interstate operating authority data (plus TX and CA intrastate, as there are long-haul routes within those two states), show an exit rate of about 2,000 net departures per day, though it has slowed recently. 


Interstate truckload capacity


ACT's DOT captures a broader market than truckload freight, so we can’t fully extrapolate this to TL capacity, but it is a great directional indicator of spot capacity. The decline in DOT operating authorities that started in October 2022 is evidence that the bottoming process is progressing.

While the industry has already removed more capacity than in prior downcycles by this measure, we think there is a migration from small fleets to larger, steadier fleets happening. This also suggests we shouldn’t over-extrapolate this data to TL capacity, but it is THE canary in the coalmine. Spot capacity is contracting, which is key to the ongoing bottoming process of the spot rate cycle.

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.

So 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. The January 2021 forecast, two full years out, was 99.8% accurate.

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


ACT Forecast Accuracy Cass Freight Index-x


ACT'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


For more on the future 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. 


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 $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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