ATA reports sharp gain in seasonally-adjusted truck tonnage in December

By Jeff Berman · January 22, 2014

With the economy continuing to show modest signs of progress, truck tonnage volumes ended 2013 on a positive note, according to data issued today by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Seasonally-adjusted (SA) truck tonnage in December ticked up 0.6 percent in December, following November’s impressive 4.7 percent gain (which was upwardly revised from a previous figure of 2.7 percent), as the index checked in at 131.7 in December compared to 130.9 in November. ATA officials said that the December SA stands as a new record-high and is up 8.2 percent compared to December 2012.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment was 123.0 in December, falling 1.4 percent below November’s 124.8.  The December NSA was up 10.3 percent annually.

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 ended 2013 on a high note, which fits with many economic indicators as trucking is an excellent reflection of the tangible goods economy,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a statement “The final quarter was the strongest we’ve seen in a couple of years, rising 2.2 percent from the third quarter and 9.1 percent from a year earlier. I’m seeing more broad-based gains now. The improvement is not limited to the tank truck and flatbed sectors like earlier in the year. With manufacturing and consumer spending picking up, coupled with solid volumes from hydraulic fracturing, I look for tonnage to be good in 2014 as well.”

This sentiment from Costello matched up with commentary from carriers that indicated the second half of 2013 was stronger than expected, as the manufacturing sector shows continued strength, coupled with good but not great holiday retail shopping and solid growth in the housing and automotive sectors, too.

In as recent interview with LM, Noel Perry, senior consultant at freight transportation consultancy FTR said paying attention to the general economy is where the assessment regarding future trucking capacity and growth really begins.

“There are two main concerns,” said Perry. “With the exception of the third quarter of 2013 (which saw GDP grow 3.6 percent), the economy has not truly accelerated in the last couple of years, and the multipliers on GDP that produce truck freight are relatively low and the combination of a relatively slow economy relatively low multipliers indicate trucking will grow between 2-3 percent [in 2014] on a base case.”

KeyBanc Capital Markets Analyst Todd Fowler wrote in a research note that both seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted tonnage reflect ongoing strength in capacity intensive automotive, energy-related and housing end markets.

“However, commentary in today’s release suggests strength is becoming more broad-based following a pick-up in manufacturing and consumer spending,” he wrote.


About the Author

Jeff Berman
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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