ATA March tonnage shows positive momentum

Coming off of its first monthly decline in three months in February, truck tonnage returned to growth mode in March, according to data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

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Coming off of its first monthly decline in three months in February, truck tonnage returned to growth mode in March, according to data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index rose 1.7 percent in March after dipping a revised 2.7 percent in February. This index was up 3.8 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, in January and December.

The current SA index is 115.4 (2000=100) in March, following February’s 117.1, which the ATA said was its highest level since January 2008. The SA index was up 6.3 percent compared to March 2010. This outpaced February’s 4.4 percent hike but lagged behind January’s 7.6 percent increase.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 123.3 in March, which was up 20.7 percent from February’s 102.6. On an annual basis, the SA was up 6.9 percent from March 2010’s 116.4.

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.

“Despite my concern that higher energy costs are going to begin cutting into consumer spending, tonnage levels were pretty good in March and the first quarter of the year,” said ATA Chief Economist and Vice President Bob Costello in a statement. “While I still think the industry will continue to grow and recover from the weak freight environment we’ve seen in recent years, the rapid spike in fuel prices will slow that growth.” 

And as long as U.S. manufacturing remains at a high level, Costello said that will be a positive for truck tonnage.

Today’s numbers from the Department of Commerce portend a positive trend for the shipment of manufactured goods. Commerce reported that March new orders for manufactured goods rose 2.5% to $208.4 billion, and shipments increased 1.8% to $207.3 billion. 

At last week’s NASSTRAC Logistics Conference and Expo in Orlando, Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst Jon Langenfeld told an audience largely comprised of shippers and carriers that the bulk of the economic recovery which is occurring is being led by strong manufacturing activity.

“This is an industrial-led recovery,” said Langenfeld. “We are still seeing high unemployment and capacity remains tight. But the manufacturing base is improving. There is a lot of freight moving on the industrial side in the near-term as it relates to demand. 

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.

“Things are good but not great by any stretch,” a shipper told LM at NASSTRAC. “That said, we are heading in the right direction but are concerned about what is happening with fuel and consumer spending.”

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About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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