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Cass Freight Index: March sees signs of strengthening economy but signals ‘still mixed’

Some shadows of the economic downturn linger, with Gallup’s measure of the adult population that is employed full time (at least 30 hours a week), dropping to 42.7 percent and unadjusted employment sitting at 7.5 percent.

The Trucker Staff

4/9/2014

Despite signs of a strengthening economy, signals are “still mixed” for trucking going forward. Still, says the March Cass Freight Index Report, manufacturing and production have “turned the corner” and customers are expected to start buying after pent-up demand caused by the severe winter, which bodes well for future freight volumes.

There were hopes that manufacturing activity would expand more than it did, but production rose almost 16 percent in March — the largest month-to-month increase since July 2009. New goods orders jumped 10.6 percent, a harbinger of more freight in coming months, the report noted.

Shipment volumes and total freight payments continued to climb in March, ending the first quarter of 2014 on a high note although freezing temperatures, ice, snow and the more recent flooding continues to plague many parts of the country.

However, transportation seemed less affected by the weather than it had in January and February, the report observed.

March shipment volumes were up 6.6 percent in March compared with February, and that was on top of the 7.3 percent rise seen in February. The number of shipments was 0.4 percent higher than in March of the prior year and 4.6 percent higher than March 2012.

Truck traffic has picked up after falling in January and February and the Institute for Supply Management’s PMI edged up another 0.5 percent in March to 53.7 — a good thing since anything below 50 shows the industrial economy is contracting.

Freight expenditures also rose for the second month in a row, up 5.4 percent over February.

Some shadows of the economic downturn linger, however, with Gallup’s measure of the adult population that is employed full time (at least 30 hours a week), dropping to 42.7 percent and unadjusted employment sitting at 7.5 percent, compared with the Bureau of Labor’s figure of 6.7 percent. That’s because Gallup also includes the “discouraged workers” who fall off the BLS rolls.

“It will be interesting to see if we can continue to climb up or if we will keep with the trend of recent years and stumble in the second quarter,” the report concluded.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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