Truck Tonnage Index Dips Slightly

The American Trucking Associations’ advance seasonally adjusted “For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index” decreased 0.2% in October, following a 0.3% contraction in September. The latest decline lowered the SA index to 103.6 (2000=100) from the revised 103.8 in September. The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 109.6 in October, up 1.6% from September.

Compared with October 2008, seasonally adjusted tonnage fell 5.2%, which was the best year-over-year showing since November 2008. In September, the index was down 7.3% from a year earlier.

Bob Costello, chief economist with the American Trucking Associations, says that the latest reading reflects an economic recovery that is still trying to gain balance, although it is on more solid ground than a year ago. “The trucking industry should not be alarmed by the small decreases in September and October,” Costello notes. “The economy is behaving as expected, with starts and stops. This is being reflected in truck tonnage, as well as most economic indicators.” He reiterates that the industry should remain prepared for ups and downs in the months ahead, but the general trend should be modest improvement. “Since consumer spending and manufacturing are not surging, trucking shouldn’t expect robust growth either. However, both retail sales and manufacturing output are exhibiting mild upward trend lines, which is the path I expect truck freight to take.”

Each month, ATA asks its membership the amount of tonnage each carrier hauled, including all types of freight. The indexes are calculated based on those responses. The sample includes an array of trucking companies, ranging from small fleets to multi-billion dollar carriers. When a company in the sample fails, the ATA includes its final month of operation and zeroes it out for the following month, with the assumption that the remaining carriers will pick up that freight. As a result, it is close to a net wash and does not end up in a false increase. Nevertheless, some carriers are picking up freight from failures, and it may have boosted the index.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing nearly 69% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.2 billion tons of freight in 2008. Motor carriers collected $660.3 billion, or 83.1% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

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