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Trucking news: ATA reports seasonally-adjusted tonnage is down 0.7 percent in April

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
May 25, 2011

Truck tonnage is continuing its ride on an up and down road, with a slight decline in March, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index dropped 0.7 percent in April after increasing a revised 1.9 percent (from1.7 percent) gain in March. This index was down 2.7 percent in February and was up 3.8 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, in January and December.

The current SA index is 114.9 (2000=100) in April, trailing March’s 115.4. February’s hit 117.1, which the ATA said was its highest level since January 2008. The SA index was up 4.8 percent compared to April 2010, lagging March’s 6.3 percent annual increase an in line with February’s 4.4 percent hike.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 113.6 percent in April, down from March’s 123.3. On an annual basis, the SA was up 2.0 percent from April 2010.

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.

“The drop in April is not a concern,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a statement. “Since freight volumes are so volatile truck tonnage is unlikely to grow every month, even on a seasonally adjusted basis. I expect economic activity, and with it truck freight levels to grow at a moderate pace in the coming months and quarters. The industry, and the economy at large, should benefit from the recent declines in oil and diesel prices. Lower fuel costs will help freight volumes and motor carrier bottom lines going forward.”

While tonnage is relatively flat on a sequential basis, carriers are reporting firm pricing is intact, coupled with steady production in the manufacturing sector, as LM reported earlier today with April durable goods orders up 3.6 percent.

Carriers have repeatedly told LM that the current market outlook is “slow but steady” and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

“Things are good but not great by any stretch,” a shipper told LM at the NASSTRAC Annual Conference in April. “That said, we are heading in the right direction but are concerned about what is happening with fuel and consumer spending.”

BBT&T Capital Markets analyst Thom Albrecht wrote in a research note that given all the noise surrounding freight volumes the past few weeks, especially regarding April and May, the latest truck tonnage figures from the ATA encouraging.

“While we typically emphasize not seasonally adjusted (NSA) data, looking at SA data this year is particularly relevant given the timing of Easter, which was April 24 this year and April 4 during 2010,” wrote Albrecht.  “Timing differences clearly impact freight flows.”

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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