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Transportation Industry Updates December 2018

Every month we take a look at the most recent transportation trends to help plan for the future. Discover the trends and updates for December 2018.

U.S. Trucking

The American Trucking Association’s seasonally adjusted Truck Tonnage Index increased 9.5% in October, rebounding from September’s revised 3.8% growth, which was the slowest growth rate since June 2017. The ATA attributed the strength to increased ocean import shipments due to pull-forward activity. October’s growth rate was the 18th consecutive month of year-over-year growth. As a three-month moving average, October tonnage was up 5.9%.

 

Average truckload rates were up 8% in November, according to Cass Information Systems. The growth rate has moderated, but remains near record highs since the data’s 2006 inception as strong contract price increases drive growth, whereas spot market trends slow. It’s estimated that average contract dry-van truckload rates in 2018 are 8-11% higher than 2017, and feedback indicates rates could increase an additional 3-5% in 2019.

 

Global Airfreight, Containerized Ocean Traffic
Total U.S. container imports rose 6% year over year in November. Year-to-date imports are up 6%. Growth was a result of organic growth plus tariff-related inventory pull forward. With trade tariffs pending, there is risk for additional pull-forward of shipments which could lead to deceleration in 2019.

During November, spot market ocean rates from Asia to the U.S. West Coast rose to an average rate of $2,450 versus $1,200 in late June. The rate increase appears to be a result of capacity reductions and strong demand partly due to tariff-related pull forward. However, rates in late November fell to $2,200, likely due to slowing demand as planned tariff deadlines passed.

Airfreight rates in October rose versus year-ago and month-ago periods. Airfreight rates are expected to remain higher through 2018 as more capacity has been proactively locked into contract agreements due to capacity constraints with incremental pricing increases likely due to tariff-related demand at the end of 2018.

Rail Trends

So far in the fourth quarter of 2018, CSX volumes rose 2.3% with growth in coal, intermodal and industrial products offsetting less chemical and sand/stone volume. Norfolk Southern volumes are growing at a nearly identical pace, but are instead a result of chemicals and intermodal volume growth, whereas coal and automotive shipments are negative year over year.

Union Pacific and BNSF volumes are up 2%. Coal declines remain a drag for Union Pacific, while intermodal volume strength, coal and chemical/petroleum growth helps. Notably, Union Pacific’s sand volumes have declined 21% likely due to local frac sand mines becoming operational, partially offset by higher petroleum volumes.

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