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Trucking news: ATA reports April tonnage is up 9.4 percent year-over-year

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 01, 2010

The American Trucking Associations recently reported this week that its advanced seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index was up in April for the sixth time in seven months, rising 0.9 percent. This comes on the heels of a 0.4 percent March gain.

April’s increase put the SA at 110.2 (2000=100), following a 109.2 March reading, which at that time was its highest reading since November 2008.

The ATA said the SA was up 9.4 percent year-over-year, marking the fifth straight year-over-year gain and its biggest since January 2005.  The ATA added that for the first four months of 2010, SA tonnage was up 6 percent compared to the same timeframe a year ago. This is a better beginning to the year than 2009, when the 2009 SA was down a revised 8.7 percent (previously reported 8.3 percent), which marked its largest annual increase since a 12.3 percent decline in 1982.

The ATA also reported that its not seasonally-adjusted index (NSA), which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, hit 111.3 in April, which was down 4.4 percent from March. On an annual basis, the NSA was up 1.7 percent.

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. Some industry analysts maintain that the not seasonally-adjusted index is more useful, because it is comprised of what truckers haul.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement that April’s tonnage fits with a sustained economic recovery for myriad reasons.

“Truck tonnage volumes continue to improve at a solid, yet sustainable, rate,” he said. “Tonnage is being boosted by robust manufacturing output and stronger retail sales. For most fleets, freight volumes feel better than reported tonnage because the supply situation, particularly in the truckload sector, is turning quickly.”

And on CNBC’s “Street Signs” and the Transplace Shipper Symposium earlier this year , Costello explained that over the course of the recession the trucking industry got “pummeled,” with overall volumes falling about 25 percent, which led to less of a need for truck drivers and people working in the industry. But as recent tonnage reports show, Costello said things are indeed picking up and leading to some optimism for the future. This is due, he said, to the economy picking up and the inventory cycle-which was down in 2008 and 2009-is having “slight positive impact on freight volumes.” Another factor for growth is domestic manufacturing, which leads to several truck movements associated to that production compared to an import, noted Costello.

What’s more, the supply-to-demand ratio in trucking is starting to even out, which will boost volumes even though a sizable amount of capacity has left the industry since its 2009 trough due to bankruptcies, low truck orders, and fleet size reductions, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Justin Yagerman.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, because it represents 68 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods, according to the ATA. The ATA notes that it hauled 8.8 billion tons of freight in 2009, and that motor carriers collected $544.4 billion-or 81.9 percent-of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

About the Author

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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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