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Trucking news: ATA seasonally-adjusted tonnage index down again in June

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
August 02, 2010

Trucking tonnage saw its second decline since February, with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) reporting that its advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 1.4 percent in June.

This marks the third time in the past nine recorded months that the SA has fallen. In May it was down a revised 0.1 percent (from 0.6), and in April, the SA was up a revised 1 percent. In March it saw a 0.4 percent gain. June’s SA index reading was 108.5 (2000=100).

Despite being down for two straight months, the ATA said the June SA was up 7.6 percent year-over-year compared a 7.7 percent annual hike in May for the seventh straight annual gain. On a year-over-year basis, the SA is up 6.6 percent. 

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, reached 115.9 in June, a 6.5 percent gain from June and is up 6.6 percent year-over-year.

The NSA’s steady annual gain is indicative of a slowly recovering market even with sequential SA and NSA declines in May and June. 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.

Earlier this summer, many shippers, carriers and analysts told LM they were optimistic about the trucking market, especially when comparing it to 2009. But since then there have been various economic reports, including a recent durable goods order report released by the Department of Commerce, a higher personal savings rate and cautious consumer spending, which all have the potential to drag tonnage down in the coming months.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement that the sequential declines in SA tonnage indicate that the economy is slowing down, adding that growth in truck tonnage is likely to moderate in the months ahead as the economy decelerates and year-over-year comparisons become more challenging. But with trucking capacity remaining tight, he noted that because of trucking market supply tightness, tonnage growth for fleets feels better than expected.

But tight capacity aside, the changes in recent weeks have brought about some unprecedented variation in the marketplace, according to Mike Regan, president and chairman of the board at TranzAct Technologies, in a recent interview.

“From the last week of June through the first two weeks in July, truckload market activity was down significantly,” said Regan.

In terms of how much it fell, Regan cited an example of a story told to him at a recent industry conference in which he learned a flatbed carrier had 7 loads for every available piece of flatbed equipment. But a few weeks later that ratio had shrank to 2.5-to-3 loads for every available piece of equipment.

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

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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