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Trucking news: ATA seasonally-adjusted tonnage index down slightly in May

Despite decline, overall tonnage trends remain positive
By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 25, 2010

Trucking tonnage saw its first decline since February, with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) reporting today that its advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index slipped 0.6 percent in May.

This is only the second time in the past eight recorded months that the SA has fallen. In April, the SA was up a revised 1 percent, and in March it saw a 0.4 percent gain. May’s SA index reading was 109.6 (2000=100).

Even with a sequential decline, the ATA said the May SA was up 7.2 percent year-over-year, marking the sixth straight monthly annual gain, following a 9.5 percent increase in April. On a year-to-date basis, the SA is up 6.2 percent compared to the first five months of 2009, according to ATA officials.

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, hit 108.3 in May, down 2.3 percent from April. The NSA was up 5.8 percent year-over-year.

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

And prior to the ATA’s tonnage release today, both shippers and carrier and 3PL executives at this week’s eyefortransport 3PL Summit in Atlanta were very positive in their assessments of the trucking market, particularly on the truckload side. What’s more, the durable goods orders report released by the Department of Commerce yesterday was also largely positive, which is good news for continued manufacturing inventory re-builds and product that needs to be transported.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement that despite the month-to-month drop in May, the trend line is still solid. 

“There is no way that freight can increase every month, and we should expect periodic decreases,” said Costello.

“This doesn’t take away from the fact that freight volumes are quite good, especially considering the reduction in truck supply over the last couple of years.”

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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