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March 11, 2015 4:00 PM, EDT

Cass Freight Index Rises Less Than 1% in February

Edward Alexander/Flickr

The Cass Freight Index, a measure of shipping activity in trucking and other transportation modes, increased in February and expenditures also rose, Cass Information Systems said.

Shipping increased 0.9% in February from the year before. Shipments rose 5.5% from January as labor negotiations on the West Coast contributed to an economic slowdown, the St. Louis-based firm said March 11.

“The containers backed up in the West have impacted rail intermodal traffic, which was down 7.6% in February. East Coast ports have been reporting record January container loadings, but there has not yet been a significant shift to other ports. Since the contract dispute has been settled, shipment volume will pick up significantly in March and April,” Cass said in its report.

Freight expenditures increased 4.3% from last year and 0.6% from the prior month.

“February’s frigid temperatures and snow that covered much of the country led to increased shipments of heating oil and coal and sand. In addition, the railroads have reported increases in grain shipments for the last two months,” Cass said.

Cass expects the slowdown at West Coast ports to cost retailers as much as $7 billion in increased carrying costs and lost sales, and much of the undelivered freight will be discounted immediately because it is out of season.

“The slow start to 2015 should not be viewed as a concern. In 2014, the weather caused a disruption similar to the West Coast port problems, but once those were resolved the economy began to heat up,” the report said.