Trucking news: ATA seasonally-adjusted tonnage index down sequentially in August, up annually

By Jeff Berman · September 30, 2010

Truck tonnage continued its path on an uneven road, with August volumes seeing a sequential decline for the third time in four months, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index dipped 2.7 percent in August, following a 1.7 percent gain in July. ATA officials said this represents the largest sequential decrease since March 2009, putting the index at 106.9 (2000=100).

Even though the SA index was down sequentially, it was up 2.9 percent year-over-year. But this is down significantly from July’s 7.4 percent annual uptick, noted the ATA. This is the ninth straight month the SA has been up year-over-year. But unlike July and previous months, it looks like the easy comparisons to 2009, which have been seen up to this point, are abating.

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, came in at 113.5 in August for a 3.2 percent increase from July. On an annual basis, the August NSA is ahead of August 2009’s 105.8 by 7.7 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.

In the first half of 2010, 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 today’s federal government report that second quarter GDP growth fell to 1.7 percent from the first quarter, and others which indicate the recovery is slowing down.

Some other signs of a slowing economy are also evident, with unemployment still high, retail sales down, and consumer confidence falling. These factors all have the potential to bring tonnage growth down in the coming months.

What’s more, at this week’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Annual Conference in San Diego many shippers and carriers indicated that there is an underlying sense of caution in play when assessing trucking volumes and where they may be heading in the coming months.

One recurring theme heard from CSCMP attendees was that whatever recovery is occurring may now be led by manufacturing, rather than consumer spending, which typically accounts for 70 percent of all economic activity.

“We fully anticipate sluggish economic growth for the remainder of this year and the latest tonnage numbers are reflecting that slowdown,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a statement. “While I’d much rather see better tonnage figures, motor carriers can now do better with small increases in demand since so much supply left the industry during the recession.”

Despite the myriad challenges in the trucking market, an executive at a large carrier company told LM that demand at his company continues to hold up relatively well.

“Shippers are clearly interested in securing capacity,” said the executive. “They’re taking steps to ensure they have the resources they need from their key carriers, particularly as we approach the higher-volume seasonal shipping months.” 

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
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. Contact Jeff Berman

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