March 11, 2016 2:00 PM, EST
Cass Index Declines 2.6% in February, Compared to 2015

The Cass Freight Index, a barometer of U.S. freight activity that’s primarily based on trucking shipments, dipped 2.6% last month from the same period of 2015, reflecting a continued drag from a sluggish economy.

The index based on freight bills paid by Cass Information Systems, improved 8.3% from January, ending a slide of four consecutive months on a sequential basis. Sequential growth should continue in March, the report said, following the seasonal pattern in recent years.

Economist Rosalyn Wilson, author of the report, said the results were expected, based on seasonal trends.

“The recent four month slide in freight traffic put the starting point for 2016 significantly lower than in the last several years,” she wrote. “Economic growth slowed more than expected in the fourth quarter of 2015 and continued into January. The robust turnaround this month signals improvement, but current economic conditions do not support a robust rebound.”

“Global markets are still weak,” said Wilson. “The U.S. dollar remains strong, making our export goods more expensive on world markets; consumers are in a stronger position with positive income growth, but still remain conservative in their spending. Inventories remain very high in the goods sectors, which has reduced imports and domestic manufacturing.”

Her report also cited  volatility in the energy markets, and the fact that the Institute for Supply Management reported a fifth consecutive monthly decline in the manufacturing sector, though there were positive signs from that group for production and order backlogs.

Cass, whose monthly report also includes rail, barge and airfreight, also measures spending on freight shipments. That index was 5.1% lower in February than that month of 2015. On a sequential basis, the February payments rose 6.3% from January, also following seasonal trends.