U.S. freight shipments dropped slightly in November, falling 0.2 percent from October, but were still up 4.2 percent year-over-year, according to the Cass Freight Index. In fact, the Cass shipment index hit its highest point in November since the end of the recession in 2009.
“Inventories remain high, as many retailers placed orders early to avoid expected transportation problems with ports and truck capacity,” Rosalyn Wilson, senior business analyst with Parsons, said in her commentary on the monthly Cass Freight Index.
The drop in shipment volume in November is usually much steeper, Wilson noted. West Coast port congestion may have contributed to higher than normal volumes last month by delaying inland movement of shipments for as much as three weeks or longer.
“Not all shippers were able to avoid deliveries to West Coast ports in November and they are experiencing three-week — or longer — delays in receiving their goods,” Wilson said. She doesn’t expect West Coast port congestion to clear up before the end of the year.
Shipper spending on transportation dropped 0.7 percent from October last month, mirroring the drop in shipment volume but also lower fuel prices, which helped balance out higher rates, Wilson said. The Cass expenditure index was still up 5 percent year-over-year.
“It remains to be seen how this year’s holiday season will shake out, but there is no doubt that consumers are spending again, both on goods and services,” Wilson said. The fourth quarter this year won’t see a “precipitous slide” but a “normal” seasonal slowdown, she said.