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Trucking news: ATA seasonally-adjusted tonnage is up annually in November, down sequentially

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
December 19, 2010

Truck tonnage was essentially flat in November compared with October, according to data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Following a cumulative 2.8 percent increase over September and October, the ATA’s advance seasonally-adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage index was down 0.1 percent in November, following a revised 0.9 percent bump in October (up from 0.8 percent) and a 1.8 percent September gain. The current SA index is at 109.7 (2000=100). On an annual basis, the ATA said the SA is up 3.9 percent compared to November 2009, which is below October’s 6.0 percent and September’s 5.3 percent annual increases, respectively.

On a year-to-date basis, SA tonnage is up 5.9 percent, and the SA has been up for 12 straight months, even though the relatively easy comparisons to a dismal 2009 are not as significant as they are compared to earlier in the year.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 108.9 in November, down 3.7 percent from October and up 8.3 percent year-over-year.

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.

During the first half of 2010, inventory re-stocking resulted in encouraging signs regarding trucking volume trends, especially when compared to 2009. But beginning around mid-year, the inventory re-build ostensibly stalled out and led to declining truck tonnage volumes in August. 

“Tonnage increased for two consecutive months in September and October and I don’t expect volumes to rise every month,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a statement. “Additionally, the decrease in November is much smaller than the gains during the previous two months.”  And he added that he expects truck freight tonnage to “grow modestly during the first half of 2011 before accelerating in the later half of the year into 2012.”

Despite flattish growth on a sequential basis, there are some positive signs for the trucking market, with retail and manufacturing data still showing growth on an annual basis. This activity has led to some guarded optimism by carriers whom have told LM they are seeing modest signs of rising demand.

But with unemployment still high and a true lack of long-term visibility into the overall economic picture, it stands to reason the economic recovery will grow slowly and see some stops and starts along the way.

While freight data overall has been somewhat sluggish, especially when compared to pre-recession levels, FTR Associates President Eric Starks said that recent retail numbers provide some optimism that there may be better freight data on the horizon, especially freight with a retail-oriented focus.

“We have seen manufacturing continuing to do OK although it is not growing at the same rates as it did three or four months ago, but it is still at a healthy pace and there is still momentum in the system,” said Starks. “Manufacturing led us out of this initial recovery, and the consumer kind of [held] back. It looks like the consumer is starting to participate now and pick up the pace…otherwise it will not be a sustainable recovery. This is a good sign from that standpoint and as consumers start to get more comfortable in buying, then businesses will free up some cash on hand. If they are confident consumers are going to stick around they will spend that cash more freely.”

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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