US Freight Shipments Plunge 9.4%, Most Since 2009

But the coronavirus impact has not been felt yet; that will come later.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET

Shipment volume in the US by truck, rail, air, and barge plunged 9.4% in January 2020 compared to the already weak January a year earlier, according to the Cass Freight Index for Shipments. It was the 14th month in a row of year-over-year declines, and the steepest since October 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 – truck, rail, air, and barge – but it does not track bulk commodities, such as grains or coal.

In December, when the index had plunged 7.4% year-over-year, the steepest drop since November 2009, the calendar got blamed because Christmas fell on a Wednesday, as it does regularly. In January, the year-over-year drop of 9.4% was even worse, from an even weaker month a year earlier, and this time, there is no calendar to blame.

December was the month when Celadon Group, with about 3,000 drivers and about 2,700 tractors, shut down — the largest truckload carrier ever to file for bankruptcy in US history, which came on top of hundreds of mostly smaller trucking companies that had also shut down in 2019.

January was the month when barge operator American Commercial Lines, with 3,500 barges mostly on the Mississippi River, ran aground, so to speak. After having worked out a deal with its lenders in January, it announced at the beginning of February that it would file for a “prepackaged” bankruptcy.

January was also the month when two of the largest US railroads – CSX and Union Pacific – reported terrible results, including dropping revenues and massive layoffs on broad-based weakness in the transportation business

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