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February truck tonnage is up 5.5 percent annually, says ATA

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
March 27, 2012

Truck tonnage volumes showed growth in February based on data released today by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Seasonally-adjusted (SA) truck tonnage in February was up 0.5 percent after a revised 4.6 percent (from 4 percent) January decline and a 6.4 percent December increase. December represented the biggest annual monthly gain since July 1998 at 10.5 percent. February’s SA was 119.3 (2000=100) and was ahead of January’s 118.7 and 5.5 percent better than February 2011.

February’s month-to-month increase was its sixth in the last seven months, according to ATA data. And the SA index is up 4.3 percent year-to-date compared to the first two months of 2011.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was up 1.3 percent in February from January at 112.9. It was below December’s 116.4. Compared to February 2011, the NSA was up 9.7 percent.

As LM has reported, some 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 told us that February was decent and that played out in the numbers,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement. “I’m still expecting continued truck tonnage growth going forward.  Rising manufacturing activity and temperate consumer spending should be helped a little from an improving housing market.”

Carriers continue to tell LM that demand and tonnage remain fairly decent, especially when taking the slowly recovering economy and seasonality components into account as well.

Strength in manufacturing, somewhat steady retail sales, and signs of a slowly improving housing market are all serving as drivers of truck tonnage volumes. But unlike the past two years there does not seem to be a significant inventory rebuild in place.

But retail inventories have been lean since well before the holiday shipping season, due to the fact that retailers don’t want to be caught with extra stock following the holidays (which happened in early 2009), which, in turn, forces them to sell leftover stock at a sharp discount in the first quarter.

What’s more, carriers have said that although capacity is tight they are well-positioned to
take on more capacity during the first half of 2012 as they rebuild inventories and the economy slowly improves.

“Since bottoming out in the summer of 2009, tonnage is up a very robust 18.2 percent,” Costello said in an ATA video. “Manufacturing has really been driving a lot of this tonnage increase, but there are also signs of life out of the housing sector which really helps flatbed carriers and is heavy freight…as is fracking for natural gas.”

Costello said he is a little concerned over fuel prices, explaining that as consumers spend more on fuel that is really a tax on them and leaves less money to spend elsewhere. But he said that has been balanced out in recent months with employment gains.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst John Larkin observed in a recent research note that freight volumes should grow slightly faster than freight hauling capacity, as carriers will likely hold capacity in check until adequate margins are earned to justify reinvestment in their fleets. He noted this is sorely needed after the industry extended its average fleet age to near record highs through the great freight recession.

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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