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Trucking news: ATA reports seasonally-adjusted tonnage is down 0.2 percent in August

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
September 27, 2011

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported today that tonnage on a seasonally-adjusted basis fell for the third time in the last four months.

The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index dropped 0.2 percent, following a 1.3 percent dip in July. The index was up a revised 2.6 percent in June, 0.6 percent and 2.0 percent declines in April and May, respectively, continuing a largely uneven pattern of freight transportation volumes.

The SA index is currently at 114.4 (2000=100), which is down July’s 114.6 and June’s 115.8. It is up from May’s 112.8. On an annual basis, it was up 5.2 percent compared to annual gains of 3.9 percent in July and 6.5 percent in June.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was at 123.8 in August, well ahead of July’s 111 and in line with June’s 122.3. The August 2010 NSA index was 113.5, putting the August 2011 NSA up by 9.4 percent.

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.

“Freight has been going sideways for much of this year, but it isn’t falling significantly either, which suggests the U.S. economy just might skirt another recession,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement.

He added that on an anecdotal basis carriers are handling as much freight as they can. 
“In part, this is due to less industry supply. The number of trucks operated by the truckload industry is still down about 12 percent from the height in late 2006, yet tonnage levels are about the same as in late 2006. Additionally, most carriers are finding it very difficult to hire new truck drivers, which mean they can’t add too many trucks.”

Given the significant gain in annual volume comparisons for the NSA index between July and August, Avondale Partners analyst Donald Broughton wrote in a research note that this shows that the U.S. economy is not heading into a double dip as freight flows continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace than some had anticipated earlier in the year.

Broughton added that on an anecdotal basis there appears to be potential for a sharp, protracted peak, with the potential for a more pronounced spike given the historically low level of inventories at the retail level.

Despite Broughton’s optimism, signs of economic weakness, including a recent slowdown in manufacturing data, sluggish retail sales and consumer confidence levels, and fears of a double-dip recession, are prevalent, and all appear to be contributing to lower freight volumes.

Many industry stakeholders maintain that conditions remain choppy, with no clear cut signs of a true recovery on the horizon at this point, especially when factoring in the dark unemployment and housing pictures, too.

In recent months, both shippers and carriers have explained that even though things are relatively steady in light of an uncertain economy, a good amount of the momentum occurring in the market earlier in the year has definitely lessened.

“We saw conditions in July being very soft, and the second half of the month rebound to the levels we were anticipating,” said a trucking executive in an interview. “August was stronger than that and September is a leg above August so we are seeing the normal seasonal pattern as being a little bit muted, and we are feeling like we are in an environment that is not terrible but rather OK.”

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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