FreightPlus’ Monthly Market Update, created by FreightPlus subject matter experts, provides detailed and actionable insights into the ever-changing transportation industry.

A core FreightPlus principle is providing our partners with data and insights to enable better, strategic business decisions.

February Market Report

Truckload

In February, the truckload market experienced notable fluctuations in both volume and tender rejections, reflecting a mix of factors shaping the industry landscape. Initially, there appeared to be a promising 4.4% increase in volume compared to January. However, January typically begins with a slow pace; when the first week of January was excluded from the analysis, the volume increase narrowed significantly to a mere 0.5% in February.

Accompanying this fluctuation in volume was a more detailed trend in tender rejections. While there was a slight month-over-month decrease of 19 basis points, the more compelling story lay in the trajectory witnessed within the month itself. Tender rejections declined progressively throughout February, starting at 5.2% in the initial week and steadily diminishing to 4.06% by the month’s conclusion. This gradual decline suggests a maturation or stabilization within the market as the month progressed.

In tandem with these dynamics, the spot market experienced its own adjustments. Average rates per mile decreased by 1.9% month-over-month, reflecting the market’s efforts to regain equilibrium following the disruptive winter weather experienced in January. As expected, spot rates for February aligned closely with those seen in December, with the average rate per mile finishing $0.01 lower in February than in December.

Overall, February in the truckload market showcased a period of moderation and stabilization, marked by detailed shifts in both volume and tender rejections. The market demonstrated realigned based on market forces and returning to levels of stability comparable with the rest of this current market cycle.

Additionally, when considering year-over-year metrics, it’s intriguing to note an 11%-12% increase in volumes compared to the previous year. This significant uptick can be colored by significant shifts in tender rejections, indicating early signs of what’s to come in the market. As more capacity leaves, we can anticipate more disruption and volatility on the road ahead, making it crucial for market participants to stay attuned to evolving trends and dynamics.

Fuel

In the month of February, on-highway diesel prices gradually rose from $3.899/gal on 02/05, to $4.109/gal on 02/12, the first time the EIA benchmark has been above $4 since December and wrapping up February at $4.022/gal as of 03/04. Year over year, the EIA price is $0.26 less than last year’s benchmark. In crude markets, the spot price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is relatively flat year over year holding at $80 per barrel.

In the renewables arena, the EIA is expecting renewable diesel production to increase be 30% annually in both 2024 and 2025. The production prediction from the EIA averages 230,000 barrels per day in 2024 and anticipated to increase to 290,000 barrels per day in 2025. In 2023, the average production for renewable diesel was 200,000 barrels per day.

LTL

March is witnessing a flurry of activity and transformation within the less than truckload (LTL) industry, with strategic acquisitions, terminal expansions, equipment auctions, and operational metrics driving rapid evolution.

TFI International’s acquisition of Hercules Forwarding marks a significant milestone in LTL. This strategic move is expected to enhance TFI’s service offerings and market presence, indicating a wave of consolidation and growth within the industry. Keep an eye out for updates on how this acquisition reshapes the competitive dynamics of the LTL market.

Southeastern Freight Lines is expanding its regional LTL terminal network, underscoring the company’s commitment to improving service capabilities and expanding customer reach amidst a growth push. The addition of new terminals reflects Southeastern’s efforts to meet increasing demand and enhance operational efficiency.

Additionally, an upcoming auction of ex-Yellow tractors and trailers worth millions of dollars symbolizes a transitional phase in the LTL industry post-Yellow Corporation labor dispute. This auction presents an opportunity for carriers and logistics firms to acquire premium equipment and strengthen their fleets amid changing market dynamics. Following the auction closely will provide insights into the evolving asset landscape in LTL.

Old Dominion Freight Line’s release of February operating metrics offers valuable insights into the company’s performance. As a significant player in the LTL space, Old Dominion’s operational data sheds light on industry trends and benchmarks, illuminating operational best practices and performance standards. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. reported positive revenue growth in February 2024, with a 1.2% increase compared to the same period in 2023. However, there was a 3.0% decrease in LTL tons per day, primarily due to a 3.2% drop in LTL weight per shipment, partially offset by a 0.2% increase in LTL shipments per day. Despite these fluctuations, the company saw a notable increase in LTL revenue metrics for the quarter-to-date period, with LTL revenue per hundredweight rising by 3.7%, and a 7.1% increase when excluding fuel surcharges.

Intermodal

The beginning of 2024 saw a promising start for dwell time, dipping below 25%. Comparing the four-week average to the same period last year reveals a notable 7% decrease in dwell times during the first half of January. This improvement hints at smoother operations within the intermodal space.

Intermodal railcar availability has remained stable since late 2020, initially starting the year slightly above its rolling five-year average. However, since July of the previous year, it has experienced a year-on-year decline of approximately 1%.

In February the Norfolk Southern is going to start reallocating resources from Cincinnati and Louisville to aid a growing intermodal lanes like Atlanta and Memphis, aiming to enhance profitability and align with market trends. This shift promises improved efficiency and cost reduction but may pose challenges in managing capacity elsewhere. Additionally, Norfolk Southern will cease its international intermodal service between South Carolina Ports, Georgia Ports Authority, and destinations in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville, impacting GPA’s Mid-America Arc initiative. Tureman suggests redirecting resources to high-demand routes like Savannah-Charleston to Atlanta or Memphis and hints at potential reinstatement if Midwest traffic increases.

Despite closures, this doesn’t signal a downturn in CSX’s performance; rather, it’s optimizing its network strategically to enhance capacity and accessibility in high-traffic regions. With an anticipated surge in intermodal demand, these adjustments should address concerns about increased volume effectively. Tureman acknowledges Norfolk Southern’s redirection of resources from Cincinnati and Louisville to growing international intermodal lanes like Atlanta and Memphis, aiming to optimize resource utilization, align with growth trends, and enhance profitability. Prioritizing high-volume routes enables Norfolk Southern to improve service reliability, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. While this shift may boost customer satisfaction and market share in key regions, challenges in managing capacity and service levels in other markets may emerge. Nonetheless, effective resource management is essential for Norfolk Southern to stay competitive in the evolving intermodal landscape.

 

List of Lane Closures:

  • Appliance Park (Louisville, KY) to Charleston, SC
  • Charleston, SC to Appliance Park (Louisville, KY)
  • Appliance Park (Louisville, KY) to Garden City, GA
  • Garden City, GA to Appliance Park (Louisville, KY)
  • Appliance Park (Louisville, KY) to Kansas City, MO
  • Atlanta, GA (Inman) to Jacksonville, FL (local)
  • Jacksonville, FL (local) to Atlanta, GA (Inman)
  • Charleston, SC to Landers
  • Landers to Charleston, SC
  • Charleston, SC to Sharonville
  • Sharonville, MD to Charleston, SC
  • Cleveland, OH to GCT Bayonne
  • GCT Bayonne to Cleveland, OH
  • Columbus, OH to GCT Bayonne
  • Garden City, GA to Landers
  • Landers to Garden City, GA
  • Garden City, GA to Sharonville, MD
  • Sharonville to Garden City, GA
  • GCT Bayonne to Kansas City, MO
  • Kansas City, MO to GCT Bayonne, NJ
  • GCT Bayonne, NJ to Sharonville, MD
  • GCT Bayonne, NJ to St. Louis, MO
  • Louis, MO to GCT Bayonne, NJ
  • Jacksonville, FL (local) to Rossville
  • Rossville to Jacksonville, FL (local)
  • Norfolk, NC to Greensboro, NC

Ocean

In the month of February, U.S. container imports decreased 6% month over month, while the container imports year over year are up by 23%. With Chinese Lunar New Year taking place in February this year, the decrease in import volumes throughout March and April is imminent. Chinese Lunar New Year is week-long holiday where the Chinese take off work, meaning no manufacturing, exporting, etc. This creates a lack of imports into the US the following months after the holiday.

In the realm of rates, the FBX01 index for China/East Asia – North America West Coast started at $4,367 on 02/02, and increased to $4,754 by the 03/01, but has started to trend downwards as volume on the lane dwindles in the slow season. In the other pond, rates for FBX22 North Europe – North America East Coast took a jump from $1,194 on 02/02 to $1,714 on 03/01. The increase comes from the transfer in import market share from Transpacific trade to Transatlantic trade, as well as GRIs from multiple carriers active in the lane. For regional lanes in and out of the Suez Canal, we saw spot rates increase by over 200% within weeks, but now we are starting to see those spot rates slip in the market. Since 01/26, all FBX benchmarked lanes have decreased consecutively each week, and remain trending downward.

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Contributors

Jill Clifford
President
jclifford@freightplus.io 

Dan Burke
Senior Manager, Strategic Capacity & Pricing
dburke@freightplus.io

Connor Kerwin
Capacity Manager
ckerwin@freightplus.io

Jeremy Eliades
Capacity Manager
jeliades@freightplus.io

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