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December truck tonnage shows solid growth, according to ATA data

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
January 25, 2011

Data released earlier today by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) indicates that truck tonnage growth in December appears to be heading in the right direction.

In December, the ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index was up 2.2 percent, following 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 is 111.6 (2000=100), marking the highest level since September 2008.

On an annual basis, the SA is up 4.2 percent, topping November’s 3.3 percent gain. And the ATA said that for all of 2010, SA tonnage was up 5.7 percent 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 107.2 in December, down 1 percent from November, which was down 3.7 percent from October. The NSA was up 4.4 percent in December compared to December 2009’s 102.9 reading.

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.

“Fleets continue to tell me that freight volumes are very choppy – up one week, but down the next,” said ATA Vice President and Chief Economist Bob Costello in a statement. “That is a trend that is likely to continue this year as the economy is not growing across the board yet. I continue to expect truck freight tonnage to grow modestly during the first half of 2011 and accelerate in the later half of the year into 2012.” 

Costello added in his comments that December’s improvement fits well with the sea-saw pattern that many carriers are reporting, adding that it was a positive sign for the economy that SA tonnage reached the highest level in 27 months.

December’s gains are in line with the mostly positive sentiment that both shippers and carriers were saying in reference to market conditions at last week’s SMC3 Winter Conference in Atlanta. This cautious optimism, though, comes at a time when unemployment remains high and a true lack of long-term visibility into the overall economic picture remains intact.

Chuck Hammel III, President and Owner of Pitt Ohio Express, told LM that his company spent most of 2010 focused on adjusting rates, following three years of freight recession conditions. And in 2009 he said his company cut rates the entire year to hold on to business, which was at depressed levels.

“We did not aggressively go after new business until three-quarters of the way through 2010, when we got through our rate increases,” said Hammel. “But our tonnage is up, with 2010 up over 2009 by about 5 percent, and it is up this year, although not as high as where we would like it. But we are up probably 4 or 5 percent this year, although I would consider business levels to be tepid.”

For more stories on ATA truck tonnage, click here.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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