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Weekly Transportation Update: Automotive production was quite strong in March

Posted by The FTR Experts on 4/22/24 8:00 AM

In March, there was a notable increase in manufacturing output, with automotive production nearing a record high. Nonstore retail led the growth in retail sales, while there was a significant drop in housing starts during the same period.

  • Nonstore retail leads growth in retail sales.
  • Housing starts and sales of existing homes fall; mortgage rates top 7% again.
  • Truck spot rates recover loss from previous week but essentially no more.
  • Rail carload volume remains down y/y while intermodal strength continues.

Tags: Economy, WTU


Key indicators of the industrial and consumer sectors posted solid gains in March, but it was a tough month for the housing sector.

Retail and food service sales

Nonstore retail was the big winner in March, rising 2.7%. Gasoline station sales were up just over 2% due primarily to higher prices.

The largest decreases were in relatively small categories such as sporting goods and related stores and clothing stores. Electronics and appliance stores and department stores also saw decreases of more than 1% m/m.

The largest gain y/y by far was in nonstore retail at more than 11%. Others seeing y/y gains of more than 5% were restaurants and bars, miscellaneous store retailers, and general merchandise.

Sales of existing homes

Sales of existing single-family homes had recorded their strongest seasonally adjusted gain in a year during February, but in March they posted their sharpest drop since November 2022. Sales fell 4.3% m/m and were down 2.8% y/y, which is on par with the y/y comparison in February.

Mortgage rates

Mortgage rates are above 7% for the first time since early December. According to Freddie Mac, the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in the latest week rose nearly a quarter point to 7.1%. Freddie Mac said that in the near-term rising mortgage rates might spur more activity as some homebuyers decide to buy now before mortgage rates rise even further.


The total broker-posted rate in the Truckstop system during the week ended April 12 (week 15) basically recovered its decline during the prior week. Total load volume barely moved and has been above comparable 2023 levels for five straight weeks.

Dry van and flatbed spot rates increased while refrigerated rates decreased. Flatbed rates were at their highest level since early July. Refrigerated rates were about a half cent higher than in week 9 but otherwise were the lowest in just under a year.

The total broker-posted rate edged up slightly more than 1 cent after easing just under 1 cent during the prior week. Rates were 2% below the same 2023 week – the least negative y/y comparison since July 2022 – and 3% below the five-year average.

Dry van and refrigerated rates were slightly above rates in the same 2023 weeks while flatbed rates were down nearly 3% y/y even as they have mostly been rising gradually through 2024.

Total load activity eased 0.6% after falling about 3% during the previous week. Total volume was up nearly 10% from the same 2023 week but almost 24% below the five-year average for the week. Flatbed volume is well above comparable 2023 levels while van loads were down slightly y/y.

For more on week 15 spot metrics for truck freight, visit https://freight.ftrintel.com/spotmarketinsights.


According to the Association of American Railroads, total North American carload volumes were down 6.3% y/y for week 15 of the year, marking the 11th week of y/y declines in 2024. The commodities experiencing the greatest y/y declines include coal, metallic ores, and forest products, which were down 26.7%, 20.7%, and 19.5%, respectively.

Commodities recording the greatest growth were petroleum products, motor vehicles, and food products, up 14.8%, 5.9%, and 3.9%, respectively. Economically sensitive freight, which excludes grain, petroleum, and coal, saw a more moderate decline of 2.4%, primarily due to the exclusion of coal.

Intermodal volumes for week 15 were up 9.7% y/y with containers up 10.7% and the much smaller trailer traffic down 12.2%. Total intermodal traffic has been outperforming carloads so far this year, posting y/y increases in 14 of 15 weeks so far.

Year to date, total rail traffic is up 2.2% y/y, driven by intermodal traffic, which is up 8.6%. Carload traffic is down 3.8%. The decline in carloads is primarily due to coal, which is down 15.2%. However, most commodity groups have struggled this year, with seven of the 10 commodity groups posting negative year-to-date growth. Three of those groups are positive y/y in U.S.-only traffic, but in each case those comparisons are just barely above flat.






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      Weekly Transportation Update: Automotive production was quite strong in March