ATA’s January tonnage data remains on a growth path

Seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index is up 8 percent year-over-year

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Positive momentum in the trucking sector continued on the right path in January following a decent December, according to data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index was up 3.8 percent in January on the heels of December’s revised 2.5 percent (from an original 2.2 percent) gain. These gains were preceded by November’s revised 0.6 percent decline (up from -0.1 percent) and a cumulative 2.8 increase over September and October.

The ATA said that the current SA index was 117.1 (2000=100) in January, marking 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. And on an annual basis, the SA index was up 8 percent compared to January 2010, which the ATA said is the largest increase since April 2010, adding that the SA was up 5.7 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, which was down 8.7 percent compared to 2008.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 105.4 in January, which is a 2.9 percent decline from December. The NSA was up 5.9 percent in January compared to January 2010’s 99.5 reading.

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.

“Many fleets told us that freight was solid in January, although operations were a challenge due to the winter storms that hit large parts of the country,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a statement. Costello added that January’s tonnage data reflect how the economy is showing strong growth so far this year, but cautioned that the increase in oil prices could be a drag in the coming months as it could slow down consumer spending.

Carriers have told LM they are cautious but confident about the current trajectory regarding trucking volume growth. But things like high unemployment and a lack of long-term visibility also remain prominent, coupled with limited long-term economic visibility.

But despite these hindrances, there are positive signs, too, including sustained manufacturing growth as reported by the Institute for Supply Management, increasing retail sales for the last seven months, and growing consumer confidence levels.

“We are seeing the same things that the ATA data is showing,” a trucking executive told LM. “February has also been firm, but just like Jan it has been 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.

And like the ATA’s Costello, he noted that higher oil prices could be an issue going forward, given the current unrest in the Middle East, with the volatility of that situation also potentially driving significant fuel surcharge increases in response to escalating oil prices.

“The ATA data is one more confirmation of what the data has been telling us for about four months,” said FTR Associates Managing Director and Senior Consultant Noel Perry. “The recovering is picking up steam.  It is on a pace to surprise most economists, assuming there is no major oil shock.”

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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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