“Surprisingly Ugly” – US Freight Shipments Plunge At Fastest Rate Since 2009, Hit 2011 Levels

Authored by Wolf Richter via WolfStreet.com,

Shipment volume in the US by truck, rail, air, and barge plunged 7.9% in December 2019 compared to a year earlier, according to the Cass Freight Index for Shipments. It was the 13th month in a row of year-over-year declines, and the steepest year-over-year decline since November 2009, during the Financial Crisis:

The Cass Freight Index tracks shipment volume of consumer goods and industrial products and supplies by all modes of transportation, but it does not track bulk commodities, such as grains. As always when things get ugly, the calendar gets blamed – Christmas fell on a Wednesday, as it does regularly.

More realistically, December was also the month when Celadon Group, with about 3,000 drivers and about 2,700 tractors, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and ceased operations — the largest truckload carrier ever to file for bankruptcy in US history. It rounded off a large wave of bankruptcies and shutdowns of trucking companies in 2019, most of them smaller ones, but also some regional carriers, and on December 9, Celadon.

Rail traffic in December capped off a miserable year, with carloads down 9.2% year-over-year in December, and container and trailer loads (intermodal) down 9.6%, according to the Association of American Railroads. For the 52-week period, traffic of carloads and intermodal units fell 5%.

The 7.9% year-over-year drop of the Cass Freight Index pushed it below a slew of prior Decembers, including December 2011. The top black line represents 2018, the fat red

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