The American Trucking Associations’ advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index jumped 3.1 percent in January, following a revised 1.3 percent increase in December 2009. The latest gain boosted the SA index from 107 (2000=100) in December to 110.4 in January, its highest level since September 2008.’ The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 99.5 in January, down 3.3 percent from the previous month.
ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.
Compared with January 2009, SA tonnage surged 5.7 percent, which was the best year-over-year reading since January 2005 and the second consecutive increase.’ For all of 2009, the tonnage index was down 8.7 percent (slightly larger than the previously reported 8.3 percent drop), which was the largest annual decrease since a 12.3 percent plunge in 1982.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that the latest tonnage reading, coupled with anecdotal reports from carriers, indicates that both the industry and the economy are clearly in a recovery mode. ‘While I don’t expect tonnage to continue growing as robustly as it did in January, the industry is finally moving in the right direction. Although there are still risks that could throw the rebound off track, the likelihood of that happening continues to diminish.’
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.