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Trucking volumes end 2012 on a fairly positive note, says ATA

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
January 24, 2013

Trucking volumes finished 2012 on a fairly positive note, according to data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) earlier this week.

The ATA said that seasonally-adjusted (SA) truck tonnage in December—at 121.6 (2000=100) increased 2.8 percent in December, following a 3.9 percent (upwardly revised from 3.7 percent)  gain in November, which was the first monthly gain for the SA since January and also snapped a three-month skid of declines representing a cumulative drop of 4.6 percent. What’s more, the ATA said that consecutive increases in November and December “were by far the best gains of 2012.”

On an annual basis, the SA was down 2.3 percent compared to December 2011, which the ATA said marks the worst annual result for the SA since November 2009, when it fell 3.5 percent compared to November 2008.

ATA officials said that for calendar year 2012 SA tonnage was up 2.3 percent, following a 5.8 percent gain in 2011.

The ATA’s not seasonally-adjusted (NSA) index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, was 110.3 in December, representing a 4.9 percent decline from November and a 5.4 percent decline from the 116.4 recorded from December 2011.

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.

“December was better than anticipated in light of the very difficult year-over-year comparison,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement. “As paychecks shrink for all households due to higher taxes, I’m expecting a weak first quarter for tonnage and the broader economy. Since trucks account for the vast majority of deliveries in the retail supply chain, any reduction in consumer spending will have ramifications on truck tonnage levels.” 

Costello added that he anticipates more sluggishness in the index this year, especially early in the year, as the economy continues to face several headwinds. 

When the ATA issued November tonnage data late last year, the Fiscal Cliff negotiations between the White House and Congress were top of mind. Costello said at that time that tonnage growth could decelerate in 2013, with better housing starts and auto sales offset by slower factory output and consumer spending.

And with a Fiscal Cliff agreement reached earlier this month, it appears his outlook is in line with what is happening in the market.

As previously reported, shippers and carrier have repeatedly told LM that volumes remain in a holding pattern to a certain degree, with no real positive indications that things will change soon.

This ATA data comes at a time when the economic outlook remains largely muddled, with promising housing starts and automotive sales, as well as employment figures gaining some traction. Conversely, issues regarding the nation’s debt ceiling and sluggish retail sales and slow industrial production growth make for a mixed batch, as per the usual.

“When you look at what has happened in both the freight economy and the overall economy over the last 9 months, things have really flattened,” said Eric Starks, president of freight transportation forecasting firm FTR Associates, in a recent interview. “It is a somewhat stagnant environment, especially with retail sales.”

About the Author

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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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