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.

September Market Report


In September 2023, market dynamics were significantly influenced by the Labor Day holiday, contributing to a notable spike in market volatility. When examining the month-over-month (MoM) volume data, a nominal decline of 0.9% was observed. However, it is crucial to note that this decline was largely a result of the holiday period, which temporarily disrupted the capacity network. Excluding the holiday weekend from the metric, a contrasting perspective emerges, revealing a modest increase of 0.4% in volume.

This seemingly subtle variance holds significant analytical weight, particularly in light of the rising rejection rates observed after the holiday season. Following Labor Day, carriers found themselves compelled to strategically redeploy their capacity across the United States, leading to a sharp uptick in rejection rates, which surged by 34 basis points (bps) MoM. Notably, these rejection rates surpassed the 4% threshold in August for the first time since mid-January of the same year, a trend that persisted throughout much of September, ultimately stabilizing at 4.08%. However, it is worth highlighting a noteworthy development in the data: a decline of 30 bps in rejection rates during the final week of September compared to the rest of the month. Once rejection rates surpass 5% it serves as an indicator of the market starting to shift.

Over the past three months, a noticeable trend has emerged in the market landscape, characterized by a gradual uptick in rates. This can be primarily attributed to the escalating costs associated with diesel fuel. Diesel prices surged by a substantial 19.0% from the first week of June, where they stood at $3.855 per gallon, to the final week of September, when they reached $4.586 per gallon. This considerable spike in diesel costs has had a palpable impact on pricing structures, contributing to a noteworthy $0.12 per mile increase in rates when factored into the FreightPlus fuel surcharge mechanism.

A key indicator of this influence is evident in the dry van sector, where the average rate per mile has experienced a moderate rise of $0.03 per mile, equivalent to a 1.4% increase, over the same period. This uptick underscores the pivotal role played by fuel costs in driving the overall rate adjustments observed in the market. Consequently, these developments highlight the significance of monitoring fuel price fluctuations as a critical factor in understanding the broader market dynamics and making informed projections for future rate movements.


In September, diesel prices exhibited fluctuations. The EIA benchmark started at $4.475 per gallon on August 28th, peaked at $4.633 on September 18th, and then dipped to $4.586 by September 25th. This decrease marked the first decline since July 3rd, following 11 consecutive weeks of increases. As of October 10th, the EIA benchmark stands at $4.498 per gallon.

Recent news concerning the conflict in Israel has heightened uncertainty in future markets. Potential market disruptions may drive price increases. While there is currently no immediate impact on supply, retail diesel prices may rise in line with wholesale and future prices as various scenarios unfold.


Last month, we reported that things had settled somewhat after the chaos and dust storm caused by the bankruptcy and closure of Yellow Freight.

The latter half of August and the first couple of weeks in September were focused on the digestion and re-distribution of the former Yellow business into the rest of the market. Apart from a few initial actions, such as lane and region metering by a handful of carriers and some pricing adjustments by others, things have generally normalized in this regard.

The fourth quarter arrived with a bang, marked by global tensions due to the conflict in the Middle East. The spotlight of volatility was centered on Estes Express, which faced what is likely the largest LTL carrier cyber attack the market has ever seen. This incident brought all technology to a halt, including the website, API’s, EDI, rating, billing, and more, while the issues were diagnosed and solutions were implemented. It will likely take 2-3 weeks for the systems to fully recover, and slightly longer for Estes to regain all the temporarily lost freight. Unfortunately, shippers and 3PL’s have become accustomed to this kind of market trauma, having gone through it twice in the last three months.

Regarding the data, the LTL PPI index for September rose by another 3.5 points, resulting in a cumulative gain of 23.2 points over the past three months, favoring carrier pricing power. It’s worth remembering that the largest jump in this index the industry had seen since March 2022 occurred in August 2023.

Fuel prices have slightly stalled this month, providing some relief to LTL pricing pressure. However, it’s uncertain how long this relief will last given the ongoing situation in the Middle East.

As always, FreightPlus is here to provide support from an LTL perspective. Staying informed about market developments is essential for our ability to address and simplify challenges for our customers.


Despite year-over-year volume declines, there is a surplus of capacity in domestic container markets for both drayage / rail services, making it an excellent time to secure long-term solutions. However, as railroads and drayage providers experience volume growth, today’s discounts may not be guaranteed tomorrow.

Spot rail pricing typically lags behind truck pricing by four to six weeks and remains around 30% lower year over year. Recent data shows a 1.5% increase in spot rates, potentially due to a 31% rise in diesel costs over three months and increased demand following the end of the Vancouver port strike. Contractual rates, while still lower, are also normalizing to historic averages.

At the Journal of Commerce Inland IMDL conference, four major North American Class I railroads discussed solutions for chronic service disruptions. Despite improvements in intermodal train speeds, issues like street turn dwell time and theft persist at most ramps. BNSF’s plans to expand tracks in various locations aim to alleviate congestion and improve transit times, while technology enhancements and operational improvements are underway at BNSF Logistics Park Chicago and BNSF Alliance to reduce truck turn times and address crane operation concerns.

Rail transit times consistently outperform their five-year averages, with ample containers and chassis available. This advantage is further accentuated by rising diesel costs. Expedited service options offer cost savings while maintaining similar delivery speeds compared to over-the-road transportation in many lanes.


The NRF has confirmed that August marked the peak of container import volumes for this year. In September, imports experienced a 1% decline, and it is projected that volumes will remain relatively stable throughout October, with a decline anticipated for the rest of 2023. Current volumes have returned to levels comparable to those in 2019, indicating a reestablishment of pre-pandemic norms in the industry.

While import volumes have returned to pre-pandemic standards, freight rates have been declining, falling below the rates seen in 2019. Transpacific rates recorded weekly declines throughout September, with rates reaching $1,500/FEU as of October 6th, representing an 11% decrease from the benchmarked rate on September 29th.

It’s worth noting that the heightened conflict in Israel has had minimal impact on both operations and rates within the region. However, it has led to the cancellation of numerous passenger and freighter flights to Israel.

Mergers & Acquisitions

According to Trucking Dive, the transportation industry is experiencing a shift in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) landscape due to several key factors. Firstly, rising interest rates and a cooling freight market have created an environment conducive to increased M&A activity. After a period of rapid expansion driven by high demand and record rates during the pandemic, many smaller carriers are now struggling financially, especially those that took on debt to expand their fleets.

As these smaller and medium-sized companies face financial challenges, larger carriers with robust financial positions see an opportunity to acquire struggling businesses. Peterson Hawkins from Lilium Group, a private equity firm, describes this situation as a “perfect storm” for acquisitions.

Furthermore, generational trends are influencing the M&A market, with many baby boomer owners of transportation companies seeking to exit their businesses. A lack of succession plans among these carriers is driving the desire to monetize their assets and retire.

Billy Hart, managing partner for M&A consultancy Bluejay Advisors, suggests that the seller’s market peaked in the fourth quarter of 2021. Since then, companies have endured economic uncertainty, supply chain disruptions, and rising interest rates, which have altered the dynamics of acquisitions. However, companies that have weathered these challenges are now preparing to exit the market.

KPMG also supports the notion that M&A activity will increase gradually in the coming quarters, with the second half of 2024 expected to witness a more robust deal market. Scott Heery, a KPMG partner specializing in transportation and manufacturing M&A, notes that trucking executives have been increasingly engaging consultants to explore sale opportunities, indicating growing momentum for a busy 2024.

Despite weak rates and economic challenges, several large carriers, including Schneider National and Hub Group, have expressed their openness to expansion through acquisitions. Hub Group’s President and CEO, Phillip Yeager, mentioned having a strong pipeline of acquisition opportunities, while Schneider National, which recently acquired M&M Transport, remains open to purchasing well-run dedicated contract carriers with a long history and no clear succession plan.


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Curtis Garrett
Senior Vice President, LTL 

Dan Burke
Senior Manager, Strategic Capacity & Pricing

Connor Kerwin
Capacity Manager

Jeremy Eliades
Capacity Manager

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