ATA February tonnage data is down sequentially, up annually
March 24, 2011
Truck tonnage saw its first decline in three months, according to data released this week by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index dropped 2.9 percent in February following 3.8 percent and 2.5 percent gains in January and December, respectively. Prior to those sequential gains, November was up 0.6 percent and September and October were up a cumulative 2.8 percent.
The current SA index is 113.3 (2000=100) in February, following January’s 117.1, which was its highest level since January 2008. December’s SA index of 112.7 was the highest it had been since September 2008 at that time. The cumulative December and January SA was up 6.1 percent.
The SA index was up 4.2 percent compared to February 2010, which was short of January’s 7.6 percent annual gain. On a year-to-date basis, the SA is up 5.9 percent compared to 2010.
The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 102 in February, down 2.8 percent from January’s 105.4.
As LM has reported, some industry analysts maintain that the not seasonally-adjusted index is more useful, because it is comprised of what truckers haul. As defined by the ATA, the not seasonally-adjusted index is assembled by adding up all the monthly tonnage data reported by the survey respondents (ATA member carriers) for the latest two months. Then a monthly percent change is calculated and then applied to the index number for the first month.
“Tonnage is not going to increase every month and in general I’m very pleased with freight volumes early this year,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a statement. “I’m hearing a significant amount of positive news from fleets and that the largest concern continues to be the price of diesel fuel, not freight levels.”
Costello added that harsh weather throughout much of the country in February likely also contributed to the sequential decline in February.
And as Costello pointed out, the prevailing in mood in the market is one of optimism, in terms of demand and volume, according to carriers and shippers. This is notable considering the myriad challenges occurring, such as high unemployment levels, increasing fuel prices, and various regulatory efforts that are likely to impact the trucking industry to a degree.
Carriers have repeatedly told LM that the current market outlook is “slow but steady” and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.
“We are seeing the same things that the ATA data is showing,” a trucking executive recently told LM. “February was relatively firm, but just like January it was somewhat negatively impacted by the severe winter weather impacting many parts of the country.”
The carrier executive also pointed out that with the supply and demand of capacity much more closely balanced this year, a continued uptick in tonnage will create greater challenges for shippers needing trucks. And he said that other items that will further squeeze capacity include CSA 2010 and the proposed changes to the Hours of Service (HOS) rules.
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