The American Trucking Associations’ advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index climbed 2.1 percent in December, following a 2.6 percent increase in November. The latest gain boosted the SA index from 106.2 (2000=100) in November to 108.4 in December, its highest level since November 2008. The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 103 in December, up 2.3 percent from the previous month.
Compared with December 2008, SA tonnage jumped 6.6 percent, which was the first year-over-year increase since September 2008. For all of 2009, the tonnage index was down 8.3 percent, which was the largest annual decrease since a 12.3 percent plunge in 1982.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that while tonnage jumped again on a month-to-month basis, the rate of increase may slow in the coming months. ‘The robust tonnage numbers in November and December were aided by better economic growth as well as a positive inventory effect,’ Costello noted. ‘However, economic activity is expected to moderate in the current quarter, which will keep a lid on tonnage growth.’’ He also addressed the year-over-year gain in tonnage, the first in over a year. ‘While the index was moving toward positive year-over-year readings in recent months, December’s gain was due, in part, to a 7.8 percent plunge a year earlier. There is no doubt that the industry is moving the right direction, but the level of freight will not be as strong as the year-over-year increases suggest because of how terrible it was in late 2008 and much of 2009.’
Note on the impact of trucking company failures on the index: 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, we include its final month of operation and zero it out for the following month, with the assumption that the remaining carriers 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. Due to our correction mentioned above, however, it should be limited.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing nearly 69 percent 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 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.
ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around the 10th day of the month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.
The American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. Through a federation of other trucking groups, industry-related conferences, and its 50 affiliated state trucking associations, ATA represents more than 37,000 members covering every type of motor carrier in the United States.