Cass Transportation Index Report January 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.

SubscribeDownload Historical Data Points (xls)

Truckload Brings It

  January 2023 Year-over-year change 2-year stacked change Month-to-month change Month-to-month change (SA*)
Cass Freight Index - Shipments 1.124 4.3% 1.3% -3.2% 0.0%
Cass Freight Index - Expenditures 4.096 1.7% 33.4% -3.2% -0.2%
Cass Inferred Freight Rates 3.644 -2.5% NA 0.0% -0.1%
Truckload Linehaul Index 149.23 -5.6% 6.5% -0.9% --


* SA = seasonally adjusted

Cass Freight Index - Shipments

The shipments component of the Cass Freight Index® fell 3.2% m/m in January. On a seasonally adjusted (SA) basis, the index was unchanged from December, better than expected with support from mild weather and improving auto production. 

  • The Omicron wave of COVID was in full swing last January, which led to widespread absenteeism and supply-side pressure on shipments, and weather was more severe last January. So, the y/y comparison isn’t too meaningful, but the index rose 4.3% y/y.
  • With normal seasonal patterns, the shipments component will be flat y/y in February and March.
  • After a soft holiday season with inventories overstocked and imports falling sharply, the outlook remains cautious, but volumes are on a high plateau. 

There has been a considerable increase in the proportion of truckload (TL) freight over the past several months, suggesting freight is migrating to TL from other modes. This fits with the robust growth in truckload capacity metrics. The resilience of volumes thus partly reflects share gains by the truckload sector, particularly contract and dedicated freight currently, amid declines in less-than-truckload (LTL) and intermodal volumes. 


Cass Freight Index Shipments January 2023-1


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 3.2% m/m in January, but returned to 1.7% y/y growth on an easy comparison.

Matching the shipment decline of 3.2% m/m in January, we can infer that rates were unchanged from December (see our inferred rates data series below).

  • On an SA basis, expenditures fell 0.2% m/m in January, with shipments flat and rates down slightly, after a 4.2% m/m decline in December.  

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.

In 2022, the expenditures component of the Cass Freight Index rose 23%, after a record 38% increase in 2021, but is set to retrench in 2023. 


Cass Freight Index Expenditures January 2023-1



Inferred Freight Rates

The rates embedded in the two components of the Cass Freight Index declined 2.4% y/y in January, after turning to a 0.4% decline in December.

  • Cass Inferred Freight Rates were unchanged m/m and down 0.1% SA in January. Aside from some noise in this series as a result of fuel prices and modal mix, the trend has clearly turned lower over the course of 2022 and is poised to continue in this direction in the near term. This stability m/m is unusual.
  • Freight rates are on track to fall 6%-7% y/y in the next few months based on the normal seasonal pattern of this index.
  • In addition to market pressure on rates, the migration toward TL from LTL could press this index lower.

Along with sharp declines in ocean rates and many commodity prices, lower freight costs aid the outlook for significant disinflation needed to improve economic conditions.


Cass Inferred Freight Rates January 2023x


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® fell 0.9% m/m in January to 149.2, after a 1.0% m/m decline in December.

  • On a y/y basis, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index turned to a 5.6% y/y decline after a 1.7% increase in December.
  • 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 more gradually but in the same direction. 


Cass Truckload Linehaul Index January 2023


See the methodology for the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index.



Freight Expectations

ACT Research provides forecasts for the Cass Freight Index in its monthly Freight Forecast deep dive. How are their forecasts performing? 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. Their January 2021 forecast, two full years out, was 99.8% accurate. 


ACT Cass Freight Index Forecast Accuracy


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 ACT forecasts to the penny from 18 and 19 months out (June and July 2021). 


ACT DAT Spot Rates Forecast Accuracy


Although LTL and intermodal volumes are down significantly, outperformance in truckload volumes shows the freight downturn is still likely to be mild overall. We believe an accelerated bottoming process has begun in the freight rate cycle, with spot rates further below operating costs than ever before.

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.

Receive Index updates straight to your inbox