Truck Tonnage Index Rises

The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 1.3 percent in June, marking the second consecutive month-to-month gain. The index rose 0.5 percent in May.

The seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled 116.5 in June (2000 = 100), which was the highest reading since February 2008 (117.2). The unadjusted index increased 1.2% to 119.9 in June.

The seasonally adjusted index was 5.4% higher compared with June 2007, marking its eighth consecutive year-over-year increase. This improvement was the largest year-over-year gain since January 2005, just surpassing the 5.3% jump in January 2008, said ATA.

“June’s solid tonnage reading matched several anecdotal reports from motor carriers,” said Bob Costello, ATA Chief Economist. Despite the uptick, however, he noted that it remains a close call whether the general economy will dip into a recession later this year or if it will only slow significantly.

“It seems that truck tonnage is once again leading the US economy,” Costello said. “During the 2000-2001 cycle, trucking pulled out of a recession before the aggregate economy fell into one. Unfortunately, truck tonnage could slow later this year as the overall economy is expected to be quite weak in the fourth quarter and the first quarter of next year.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, truck tonnage recessions better matched US recessions, say the analysts at Stifel Nicolaus. “Recently, truck tonnage has been in and out of recession before US recession.”

More heavy exports with higher density are having a positive impact on tonnage, but with no effect on the number of loads. Miles are down, and miles per load have been declining for some time now.

Larger, for-hire carriers are growing faster than smaller carriers. And more of the smaller carriers are going out of business at a faster pace. With larger fleets moving towards more regional approaches, they are winning more of the shorter haul freight, forcing the smaller fleets into longer haul business. Here, the smaller carrier faces issues with drivers (who fine the long-haul freight less desireable) and competition from intermodal.

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