Transportation Industry Updates March 2018

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

U.S. Trucking

The American Trucking Associations’ seasonally adjusted Truck Tonnage Index increased 8.8% year over year in January, versus an upwardly revised 7.5% year over year gain in December. As a three-month moving average, tonnage was up 8.1% year over year in January. 2017 tonnage was up 3.8% year over year due to a strong finish late in the third and fourth quarter, and was similar to previous growth rates.

Dry-van spot market rates in February were $2.15 per mile on a four-week rolling average, up 33% year over year. The higher year over year rates were likely driven by increased demand, higher fuel surcharges and less capacity. Industry contacts expect 2018 rates to increase 6-9% year over year, the first significant year over year increases since 2015.

February flatbed rates in the spot market were $2.36 per mile on a trailing four-week basis, up 25% year over year, slightly higher versus the past two-three months. The improvement is likely driven by strong industrial demand and higher fuel surcharges. We expect capacity to remain scarce and carriers to take advantage with flatbed contract increases of 7-10% year over year.

Global Containerized Ocean Traffic

February 2018 U.S. container imports were up 20% year over year. Year-to-date imports are up 13.9% year over year. Volume growth trends are most likely due to improving industrial markets and better consumer inventory positions.

Ocean spot market rates from Asia to the U.S. West Coast, averaged $1,409 during February 2018, down 20% year over year and down 5% from January levels, according to the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index. Spot rates have hovered around $1,400 during the past 12 months. Rates to the U.S. East Coast from Asia during February averaged $2,775, up 5% from January but down 16% year over year. Notably, rates in the first week of March declined to $2,375.

Airfreight rates in January were up 1.6% year over year, but down 10% from December due to seasonal softness post-holiday peak. The continued growth of airfreight rates is consistent with our work which indicates higher air cargo demand is primarily due to increased e-commerce, cyclical tech freight and increased supply chain speeds.

Rail Trends

CSX volumes were down 5.3% year over year through the first nine weeks of 2018, while Norfolk Southern were up 1.5% year over year during the same time frame. Norfolk Southern is gaining market shares from CSX due to recent strategic/service changes at CSX.

Union Pacific’s volumes were up 0.7% year over year during the first nine weeks of 2018 while BNSF volumes are up 3.9% year over year. Versus Union Pacific, BNSF is growing intermodal volumes at a faster rate, coal declines are less severe and grain is growing year over year.

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