Monday, October 22, 2018

Indicators: "What Truckers & Railroads Are Saying About the US Economy"

From Wolf Street:
They’re a measure of the goods-based economy.
Freight shipment volume across all modes of transportation – truck, rail, air, and barge – rose 8.2% in September, compared to a year earlier, according to the Cass Freight Index. While this is still a big jump, it’s down from the five double-digit increases earlier this year. The index covers merchandise for the consumer and industrial economy but does not include bulk commodities, such as grains or chemicals.

The chart below shows how the index changed from the same month a year earlier. Note the notorious cyclicality of the business, the peak increase in January of 12.5%, and the trend since then. Growth in shipments continues to be strong, indicating a strong goods-based economy, but that growth is leveling off somewhat:
This blistering boom in early 2018 may have run its course, with growth in shipments still strong, but showing the first signs of leveling off. At the same time, trucking capacity-constraints, while still an issue, are abating.

The DAT Dry Van Barometer, cited in the Cass report, tracks demand for van trailers compared to available capacity. It highlights the cyclicality in the business, including the “transportation recession” in 2015 and 2016. The horizontal blue line (50) indicates equilibrium between demand for vans and capacity. Values above the line indicate demand exceeds capacity. Demand-capacity imbalances drive pricing power (click to enlarge):
Demand from the industrial sector shows up in demand for flatbed trailers that haul equipment and supplies for manufacturing, oil-and-gas drilling, construction, etc. As demand for flatbed trailers surged late last year capacity suddenly tightened in January in part due to the required use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), and the DAT Flatbed Monthly Barometer, cited by Cass, spiked to historic highs....MUCH MORE