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U.S. Freight Shipping Rates Have Likely Peaked, According to New Cass Freight Index Data, in Another Sign That Inflation Is Easing

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  • U.S. freight rates increased 28% year over year, but declined nearly 2% month over month in July, according to new data from Cass Information Systems.
  • Similar to other recent inflation indicators which have shown easing, the data is a sign that freight rates have likely peaked.
  • Supply is up while demand is stable, but truck prices that have doubled since 2019 and a shortage of truck drivers will keep pressuring freight capacity.

U.S. freight rates increased 28% year over year, but declined almost 2% month over month in July, a likely signal that the U.S. market has reached peak freight rates, according to the July Cass Freight report, just as peak shipping season encompassing both back-to-school and the holidays begins.

"We're coming into this peak season with much more free capacity. I think that's going to be a good thing from a cost perspective for those big retailers who have been struggling with a lot of cost inflation," Cass Index Report Author and ACT Research Sr. Analyst Tim Denoyer told CNBC.

The report comes as major retailers are set to report earnings this week. Walmart and Target have cited the need to shift inventory due to changing spending patterns and inflationary pressures on the consumer.

The Cass Freight report also follows a better-than-expected inflation reports last week that signal a potential slowdown in inflation. The SPDR S&P Retail ETF has gained nearly 12% in August compared to a 4% move higher for the S&P 500.

CNBC received a first look at the data compiled by Cass Information Systems that reviews rates and shipments in the North American market.

Shipments, freight moved by companies, increased by 0.4% year over year, according to the report, but declined nearly 2% month over month.

"The market balance has really shifted. It's steady on the demand perspective, but supply has grown," Denoyer said.

Even with shipment trends flattening, demand remains elevated over pre-pandemic levels, and U.S. logistics companies, especially trucking companies, should continue to see strong pricing power, according to Denoyer. The Covid crisis led many independent truckers to leave the industry, and in 2021, the American Trucking Association released a report finding the nation's trucker shortage reached a record 80,000.

That report also found 1,000,000 new truckers would be needed over the next decade to maintain current levels. 

The sales price of a used Class 8 Truck (the tractor of a tractor-trailer) has doubled since 2019, according to ACT Research data. Denoyer says that has been a factor in keeping new companies and drivers from entering trucking, and will continue to influence the freight supply and demand balance.  

"U.S. truck prices have become a significant barrier to entry. I think that's going to continue and that has been a big factor for capacity," he said. 

Trucking stocks have benefitted from the pricing power and steady demand.

Arc Best, SAIA and TFI International have more than doubled the S&P 500 in the third quarter, while Knight Swift, JB Hunt, XPO Logistics, Hub Group and others have far outperformed the broader index.

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