ATA June tonnage data is mixed
July 23, 2013
The theme of mixed patterns was apparent again in truck tonnage data released today by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
The ATA reported that seasonally-adjusted (SA) truck tonnage in June was up 0.1 percent from May at 125.9, which topped May’s 125.8 and stands as the highest SA level on record. The next highest SA after June and May is December 2011 at 124.3. On an annual basis, the SA was up 4.3 percent, which the ATA said represents the largest annual gain since January, which saw a 4.7 percent gain. On an annual basis, the SA is up 5.9 percent, which lags May’s 6.5 percent annual gain, and year-to-date it is up 4.7 percent.
The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 125.9 in June, dropping off from May’s 132.4, and is up 2.3 percent compared to June 2012.
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.
“The fact that tonnage didn’t fall back after the 2.1 percent surge in May is quite remarkable,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement. “While housing starts were down in June, tonnage was buoyed by other areas like auto production which was very strong in June and durable-goods output, which increased 0.5 percent during the month according to the Federal Reserve. Robust auto sales also helped push retail sales higher, helping tonnage in June. The trend this year is heavy freight, like autos and energy production, is growing faster than lighter freight, which is pushing truck tonnage up.”
While the ATA’s data is on the positive side, many industry stakeholders maintain that over all market conditions appear to be in a bit of a holding pattern, with no material increases or decreases occurring to a large degree.
Some of the market rigidity appears to be directly tied to cautious consumer spending, low GDP growth, a declining but still stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Many carriers have told LM that at the mid-point of 2013 demand expectations are relatively flat, with no huge increase on the horizon, but some have cautioned that they need to prepare for any meaningful upticks in demand that could come to fruition.
While tonnage has returned to mid single digit growth thanks to strong growth in freight related to housing and fracking, load count continues to languish,” wrote Donald Broughton, Avondale Partners analyst, in a research report. “The backdrop is decidedly mixed however, as the ISM [PMI] at 50.9 indicates almost no growth in industrial freight, while growth in retails sales excluding food, autos, and gas has begun to show improved momentum and housing continues to advance. We do not expect a strong improvement in demand in 2H’13, but believe that easier comps and a gradually improving outlook for the consumer should provide tailwinds for freight.”
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