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Trucking news: ATA reports September tonnage is up on a seasonally-adjusted basis

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
October 25, 2011

Seasonally-adjusted truck tonnage in September was up for the second time in the past five months, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index increased 1.6 percent in September, following a revised 0.5 percent (from 0.2 percent) decline in August. It was down 1.3 percent in July and up a revised 2.6 percent in June, and proceeded by 0.6 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 115.8 (2000=100), making it 3 percent better than 114 recorded in August.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was at 119.5 in September, which was 3.1 percent below 123.8 in August and ahead of July’s 111. The September 2010 NSA index was 112.4, putting the September 2011 NSA up by 5.9 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.

“I continue to believe the economy will skirt another recession because truck tonnage isn’t showing signs that we are in a recession,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement.  “Tonnage is suggesting that we are in a weak growth period for the economy, but not a recession. In the third quarter, tonnage was up 0.4% from the second quarter. Prior to the two previous recessions truck tonnage was plummeting, but not this time.”

While tonnage headed in the right direction in September, the direction of the economy remains largely unsettled with more questions than answers as to whether a double-dip recession is occurring or not, coupled with that fact that unemployment remains high and retail sales remain skittish with the holiday shopping season fast approaching.

Avondale Partners analyst Donald Broughton wrote in a research note last month 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.

“I hope the increased tonnage numbers are not just re-stocking in anticipation of a very robust seasonal spend,” said Charles W. “Chuck” Clowdis, Managing Director, Transportation Advisory Services, at IHS Global Insight. “Consumer spending has risen but Consumer Sentiment is a percentage to keep an eye on.

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.

This was made clear by both shippers and carriers at last month’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Annual Conference in Philadelphia, who told LM that things have not gotten materially better or worse in past months.

Complicating matters on the tonnage front is the issue of very tight capacity that does not seem to be abating by any stretch.

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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