What Is the Cass Freight Index?

The Cass Freight Index is a measurement of the monthly aggregate deliveries of U.S. freight. Cass Information Systems, a provider of automated payment systems, compiles and publishes the index. The Index, which began in 1955, is a meaningful indicator of U.S. shipping activity that encompasses over 1,200 divisions of more than 400 companies and manufacturers.

Key Takeaways

  • The Cass Freight Index is a measure of North American intra-continental freight volumes compiled by Cass Information Systems, one of the largest invoice processors in the U.S.
  • The index readings provide valuable insight into freight trends as they relate to other economic and supply chain indicators and the overall economy.
  • The index is updated with monthly freight expenditures and shipment volumes from the entire Cass client base. 
  • All domestic modes of transit are included, with trucking accounting for more than 75% of all activity.

Understanding the Cass Freight Index

​​​​​​​Cass Freight Index reflects freight volumes for organizations that spend anywhere from $1 million to more than $1 billion per year in the movement of freight. According to Cass, one of the nation’s largest processors of freight bills, the diversity of shippers and the aggregate volume of transactions included in the index represent a statistically meaningful representation of North American shipping activity as a whole.

The data contained within the index reflects rail, truck, air, and all other modes of domestic freight transportation. The index comprises the actual freight expenses of the underlying companies whose freight transactions Cass processes annually. Companies and cargo include food, automotive, chemical, retail, heavy equipment, packaged goods, and many more. 

Of note, the related Cass Freight Index Report includes data on both aggregate freight shipments and shipping expenditures. Additionally, the report breaks out information related to dry-bulk cargoes and flatbed freight deliveries. The financial media outlets and trade publications frequently cite the index and the report. The index also is included in the national economic data provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Each month’s volumes within the index are adjusted to provide an average 21-day work month. Adjustments also are made to compensate for business additions and deletions to the volume figures. According to Cass, these adjustments help normalize the data to provide a basis for ongoing monthly comparisons. The index uses January 1990 as its base month.

Indexes Related to the Cass Freight Index

The company also produces the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, a measure of fluctuations in U.S. domestic baseline truckload costs. It attempts to isolate the linehaul component of full truckload costs from other components, such as fuel.

Also, the Cass Intermodal Price Index tracks changes in U.S. domestic intermodal costs. Unlike the truckload index which measures linehaul rates only, the Cass Intermodal Price Index attempts to tracks all costs. Intermodal freight is unique in that the cargo remains in the container when transferred between varying modes of transportation rather than being offloaded.

Several competing index and data providers include:

  • Morgan Stanley Proprietary Truckload Freight Index tracks the supply and demand balance of truckload freight.
  • DAT RateView follows specific sectors of the freight industry, such as truckload freight, and provides real-time broker-buyer prices.
  • U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) compiles the Transportation Services Index, which reports seasonally adjusted movements of both freight and passengers.
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a non-adjusted industry level General Freight Trucking, Long-Distance Truckload database.