FTR’s Shipping Conditions Index for December deteriorated slightly from the previous month to a reading of -10.9. Q4 ’20 saw the toughest market conditions for shippers since early 2018. Freight volumes remain strong but fuel costs continue to rise steadily. FTR’s current outlook is for improved conditions as capacity utilization and rates start to stabilize, albeit at high levels. The SCI will likely remain in a low single-digit negative range through most if not all of 2021.

Todd Tranausky, vice president of rail and intermodal at FTR, commented “The new year has not been kind to shippers as weather-related disruptions chewed up capacity and higher fuel prices will likely further erode their position in the marketplace in the first quarter. Fuel prices increased significantly in the first two months of the year and will likely increase further as large refineries the produce significant amounts of diesel were forced offline from weather-related issues in February.”

The February issue of FTR’s Shippers Update, published February 5 provides a detailed analysis of the factors affecting the December Shippers Conditions Index and provides the forecast for this index through December of 2021. Additional commentary discusses how driver utilization in the for-hire segment compares to overall utilization.

The Shippers Conditions Index tracks the changes representing four major conditions in the U.S. full-load freight market. These conditions are: freight demand, freight rates, fleet capacity, and fuel price. The individual metrics are combined into a single index that tracks the market conditions that influence the shippers’ freight transport environment. A positive score represents good, optimistic conditions. A negative score represents bad, pessimistic conditions. The index tells you the industry’s health at a glance.