U.S. Bank Index sees largest-ever freight shipment volume drop

U.S. Bank Index sees largest-ever freight shipment volume drop

Year-over-year data shows Q4 2023 shipments were down 15.7%, while spending by shippers dropped 13.5%.

The U.S. truck freight market ended 2023 with further declines in both shipment volume and spending, according to the latest U.S. Bank Freight Payment Index. Compared to the same period in 2022, Q4 shipment volume in 2023 fell 15.7% while spending by shippers contracted 13.5%. The year-over-year drop in volume was the largest in the history of the Index.

“The truck freight market is feeling the impacts of companies reducing inventories significantly as well as consumers continuing to spend more on experiences over goods,” said Bob Costello, senior vice president and chief economist at the American Trucking Associations. “We’ll watch carefully in coming quarters if companies complete their inventory reduction efforts and begin to restock, which would help boost trucking.”

All regions in the fourth quarter felt the slowdown in 2023 volume versus the same quarter in 2022, but it was most acute in the Southeast (-25.4%) and Northeast (-23.8%). Spending also dropped in all regions year over year, with the most significant in the Midwest (-17%).

“Throughout 2023, our Index has consistently revealed significant declines in spending by shippers. While spending dropped again in the fourth quarter, we are seeing indications that might suggest trucking supply is coming into balance with demand,” said Bobby Holland, director of freight business analytics at U.S. Bank.

National Data
Shipments
Linked quarter: -10.9%
Year over year: -15.7%

Spending
Linked quarter: -1.4%
Year over year: -13.5%

Regional Data
West
Shipments
Linked quarter: -2.9%
Year over year: -16.3%

Spending
Linked quarter: 0.2%
Year over year: -7.4%

The West was one of two regions to see an increase in spending on a quarter-over-quarter basis, though spending by shippers was still down -7.4% compared to a year earlier. Improved West Coast import volumes may have helped the region’s shipment volumes, which were still down, but less so than most other regions.

Southwest
Shipments
Linked quarter: -18.2%
Year over year: -15.9%

Spending
Third quarter: -2.7%
Year over year: -10.4%

After slowing in Q3, the Southwest truck freight market contracted significantly in the fourth quarter. The region, which was the best for truck freight in 2022 and the first half of 2023, experienced slower retail and home sales in the first half of the fourth quarter, which weighed on truck freight volumes.

Midwest
Shipments
Linked quarter: -8.6%
Year over year: -8.9%

Spending
Linked quarter: 1.2%
Year over year: -17.0%

Midwest shipment volumes contracted the least among all regions compared to the fourth quarter 2022. Soft manufacturing, consumer spending and housing activity in the region have likely contributed to depressed freight volumes, which have persisted for the last few years.

Northeast
Shipments
Linked quarter: -9.4%
Year over year: -23.8%

Spending
Linked quarter: -2.5%
Year over year: -12.5%

The Northeast was one of the most challenged truck freight markets in 2023. Headwinds for the market include consumer spending moderation and manufacturing activity softening.

Southeast
Shipments
Linked quarter: -14.5%
Year over year: -25.4%

Spending
Linked quarter: -4.1%
Year over year: -11.4%

The Southeast had the largest year-over-year drop in volume among all regions. The region has had consistent volume contractions – as well as spending declines – in recent quarters.

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