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Cass Index: Despite December declines, transportation shows strong economy

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With all of 2018 in the record books, it is clear that 2018 was an extraordinarily strong year for transportation and the economy, Cass Information Systems said in its December report. ©2019 Fotosearch

ST. LOUIS — December was a month of growing uncertainty and severe declines in the U.S. financial markets as equity valuations fell (the Dow Jones fell from 25,826 on December 3 to as low as 21,792 on December 24), most commodity prices continued to be weak (oil, copper, lumber, etc.), and interest rates declined (after peaking at 3.24 percent on November 8, the 10-year Treasury yield fell from 3.01 percent on November 30 to 2.56 percent on January 3).

Large multi-national companies lowered guidance and blamed slowing rates of activity in Europe and — to a lesser extent — Asia. Trade talks with China continued without resolution, and indications that the Chinese economy is beginning to suffer began to leak out.

But despite all the “hand-wringing” on Wall Street, the transportation economy continues to signal economic expansion, according to the December Cass Information Systems Freight Index Report prepared by Donald Broughton, founder and managing partner of Broughton Capital, a deep data-driven quantimental economic and equity research firm.

“The uninfluenced-by-human-emotion hard data of physical goods flow confirms that people are still making things, shipping things and buying/consuming things, perhaps not at the scorching pace attained earlier this year, but still at an above-average pace,” Broughton wrote.

The report said industry stakeholders were not yet alarmed about the volume of shipments going negative for the first time in 24 months (-0.8 percent in the month of December), in part because December 2017 was an all-time high for the month, and in part because of the stabilizing patterns seen in almost all of the underlying freight flows.

“However, we would be negligent if we did not acknowledge as we did in last month’s report two storm clouds on the economic horizon,” Broughton said.

Those are:

  • The tariffs and threats of even higher tariffs with China, the world’s second-largest economy (even though the latest headlines and tweets suggest that there may be a resolution). Tariffs have throttled volumes in some areas of the U.S. economy, most notably agriculture exports and other select raw materials.
  • The decline in WTI crude in December to as low as $42.50 a barrel. “This did not fall below the marginal cost of production for fracked crude in almost all areas of the U.S., but it made it less profitable and significantly lowered the incentive to drill ever more holes, effectively slowing the rate of growth in the industrial economy,” Broughton said, noting that crude’s recent rally (above $52 in mid-January) gives transportation a momentary sigh of relief. “Continued strength in the price of crude makes us more confident in our positive outlook for the U.S. industrial economy and less worried about global demand,” Broughton said.

“With all of 2018 ‘in the record books,’ it is clear that 2018 was an extraordinarily strong year for transportation and the economy,” Broughton said. “Every month from March to October exceeded all levels attained in all months in 2014 (a very strong year), while February was roughly equal to the peak month in 2014 (June 2014 – 1.201 vs February 2018 – 1.198), which is extraordinary.”

The Cass Expenditures Index is signaling continued overall pricing power for those in the marketplace who move freight.

Demand is exceeding capacity in most modes of transportation by a material amount. In turn, pricing power has erupted in those modes to levels that spark overall inflationary concerns in the broader economy.

With the Expenditures Index up 10.0 percent in December, Broughton said, Cass understood the concerns about inflation, but are comforted by four factors:

  1. Almost all modes of transportation are using the current environment of pricing power to create capacity, which will first dampen and eventually kill pricing power
  2. Spot pricing (not including fuel surcharges) in all three modes of truckload freight (dry van, reefer, and flatbed) has already been falling for six months
  3. The cost of fuel (and resulting fuel surcharges) is included in the Expenditures Index, and the cost of diesel was up 6.6 percent in December (but has been steadily falling in recent weeks, suggesting lower fuel surcharges in coming weeks), and
  4. Whether driven by capacity addition/creation or lower fuel surcharges — or a combination of both (our best guess) — the Expenditures Index was sequentially declining, before sequentially improving slightly (up 1.9 percent in December). The November Index was already down 4.9 percent from its peak in September, and down 2.4 percent from October.

To view the full report, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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ACT Research: Freight rates and trucker profits pressured In 2019

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ACT Research’s report indicated that at present the slowdown seems to be more a story of the second-half 2018 order pull-forward and large backlogs, and less about freight cycle and capacity issues. (The Trucker file photo)

COLUMBUS, Ind. — While overall economic conditions are better balanced than they were a month ago, freight data remain soft, according to ACT Research’s latest State of the Industry: Classes 5-8 Report.

“Slower freight growth, an easing of driver supply constraints, the resumption of the long-run freight productivity trend, and strong Class 8 tractor fleet growth will increasingly pressure rates, and by extension, trucker profits in 2019,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT Research’s president and senior analyst. “Regarding Class 8, orders have decelerated sharply over the past several months, with net orders in January reaching 16,089 units, the lowest monthly order intake since October 2016.”

The report indicated that at present the slowdown seems to be more a story of the second-half 2018 order pull-forward and large backlogs, and less about freight cycle and capacity issues.

Regarding the medium duty markets, Vieth said, “January’s Classes 5-7 net orders were a virtual carbon copy of December, at around 23,000 units, and medium duty orders have been a model of consistency the past ten months. However, they are entering a period of tough year-ago comparisons.”

ACT Research is a publisher of commercial vehicle truck, trailer, and bus industry data, market analysis and forecasting services for the North American and China markets. ACT’s analytical services are used by all major North American truck and trailer manufacturers and their suppliers, as well as banking and investment companies.

More information can be found at www.actresearch.net.

 

 

 

 

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Stay Metrics introduces new indicator for trends in early-stage driver turnover

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This chart shows that approximately 60 percent of the more than 3,000 drivers from 89 carriers hired in January 2018 did not make it one year with their carrier. (Courtesy: STAY METRICS)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Stay Metrics, the leading provider of driver retention tools, has released a new indicator for trends in early-stage driver turnover.

The new Stay Days Table serves as a “survivor” chart that shows the number of drivers hired by carriers each month and the percentage remaining at specific milestones after their date of hire —30 days, 60 days, 90 days, etc.

This table allows Stay Metrics to follow specific cohorts of drivers and to show how well carriers are retaining them over time, according to Tim Hindes, Stay Metrics co-founder and CEO.

As the table makes clearer than previous models, early driver turnover is a massive, industry-wide problem, Hindes said, noting that approximately 60 percent of the more than 3,000 drivers from 89 carriers hired in January 2018 did not make it one year with their carrier.

Retention trends seem to have remained consistent throughout the year so similar results are expected for each month’s cohort.

Hindes said the statistics come at a time when the driver shortage is of critical concern to motor carriers.

According to the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2018 Top Industries survey, the driver shortage is the No. 1 issue faced by carriers.

Unsurprisingly, driver retention is also high at the No. 3 spot.

Together these concerns are causing significant problems for even the best carriers in the industry.

They work exceptionally hard to find drivers in today’s market. If 60 percent of these drivers leave within one year, the driver shortage is not just an issue; it is a crisis, Hindes said.

“We believe the new Stay Days Table demonstrates the depth and pervasiveness of the early driver turnover problem. Our clients consistently beat industry averages for overall retention and this is their Stay Days Table. It represents some of the best in the industry,” Hindes said. “With drivers leaving so early, the driver shortage cannot be effectively countered. Our current version shows data for 2018 and we plan to update the metric for 2019 and beyond to continue monitoring the industry’s progress.”

The Stay Days Table saw a slight increase in overall retention for drivers hired in September and later. One possible explanation is that these drivers wanted to avoid changing carriers during the holiday season, Hindes said, adding that the data from the next few months will show if these fourth quarter hires match other groups’ retention percentages when they hit later milestones.

 

 

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ATA tonnage index increases 2.3 percent in January

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Compared with January 2018, the SA index increased 5.5 percent. In 2018, the index increased 6.7 percent over 2017, which was the largest annual gain since 1998. (The Trucker file photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. — American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 2.3 percent in January after falling 1 percent in December. In January, the index equaled 117.3 (2015=100), up from 114.7 in December.

ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.

“After monthly declines in both November and December, tonnage snapped back in January,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “I was very pleased to see this rebound. But we should expect some moderation in tonnage this year as most of the key sectors that generate truck freight tonnage are expected to decelerate.”

Compared with January 2018, the SA index increased 5.5 percent. In 2018, the index increased 6.7 percent over 2017, which was the largest annual gain since 1998.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 113.1 in January, which was 2.9 percent above the previous month (109.9). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 70.2 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.77 billion tons of freight in 2017. Motor carriers collected $700.1 billion, or 79.3 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around 5th day of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.

 

 

 

 

 

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