Cass Transportation Index Report March 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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Destocking Progresses, and Rebalancing Begins

  March 2023 Year-over-year change 2-year stacked change Month-to-month change Month-to-month change (SA*)
Cass Freight Index - Shipments 1.155 -4.0% -3.4% -1.0% -3.8%
Cass Freight Index - Expenditures 3.961 -12.0% 17.2% -1.5% -2.8%
Cass Inferred Freight Rates 3.429 -8.3% NA -0.5% 1.1%
Truckload Linehaul Index 147.7 -9.6% 3.2% -0.6% --


* SA = seasonally adjusted

Tip: Be sure to scroll down to see our new TL/LTL mode mix trends chart. Credit to Tim Denoyer.


Cass Freight Index - Shipments

The shipments component of the Cass Freight Index fell 1.0% m/m in March as freight markets continue to work through an extended soft patch.

  • In seasonally adjusted (SA) terms, the index was 3.8% lower m/m in March, after inching lower by 0.3% in February.
  • Mild weather this winter and Omicron a year ago both supported volume comparisons in January and February, so the lower result in March was not a surprise.
  • On a y/y basis, the index turned to a 4.0% decline after a 0.3% y/y decline in February. 


Cass Freight Index Shipments March 2023


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 some time. Normal seasonality from the March 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 1.5% m/m in March, and fell 12.0% y/y after a 9.7% y/y decline in February.

With shipments down 1.0% m/m in March, we infer rates were down 0.4% m/m (see our inferred rates data series below).

  • On an SA basis, expenditures fell 2.8% m/m in March, with shipments down 3.8% and rates up 1.1%.  

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 March 2023x


Inferred Freight Rates

The rates embedded in the two components of the Cass Freight Index declined 8.3% y/y in March, after falling 9.4% in February.

  • Cass Inferred Freight Rates were down 0.4% m/m after a 5.5% decline in February. Seasonally adjusted, inferred rates were up 1.1% m/m after a 3.6% m/m drop last month, partly due to higher less-than-truckload (LTL) shipment mix.
  • 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, and even allowing for modest increases to follow recent OPEC production cuts, 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 should fall 9%-10% y/y in April.


Cass Freight Index Inferred Rates March 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 fell 0.6% m/m in March to 147.7, after a 0.4% m/m decline in February.

  • On a y/y basis, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index fell 9.6% y/y in March after a 6.0% y/y decline in February.
  • 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 March 2023


See the Methodology for the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index


Freight Expectations

Over the past year, the primary modal trend as capacity growth accelerated has been a considerable increase in the proportion of TL freight, and consequent declines in LTL and intermodal volumes.

TL and LTL are the two largest modes in the Cass database. The chart below illustrates the changes in mix between the two modes in y/y terms, ignoring the others for simplicity. Currently, TL represents considerably more of the data set than a year ago, and LTL is similarly below its year-ago level. Interestingly, and as we’d expect, in tight markets, freight flows from TL to LTL, and from LTL to TL in loose markets.

Critically, though it’s probably too early to call it a trend (the chart shows 3-month moving averages), the trend change so far this year suggests the trucking industry has passed peak looseness. Freight has been migrating to TL from other modes, but capacity growth has started to slow, and a rebalancing has begun. 


Cass TL-LTL Mode Mix Trends


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. 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



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 ACT Research Co., LLC 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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