ATA says seasonally adjusted tonnage in January is highest on record, up 6.5 percent annually
February 20, 2013 - LM Editorial
Trucking volumes ended 2012 on a fairly positive note, and they commenced 2013 in the same fashion, according to data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) this week.
The ATA said that seasonally-adjusted (SA) truck tonnage in December—at 125.2 (2000=100) increased 2.9 percent in January following a 2.4 percent (revised from 2.8 percent) gain in December and 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. January’s SA is the highest on record, the ATA noted.
ATA officials said that there has been a monthly SA increase of at least 2.4 percent each month going back to November, during which time the SA index has gone up a cumulative 9.1 percent.
On an annual basis, the SA was up 6.5 percent compared to January 2012, which represents the best annual SA gain since December 2011, when it was up 10.5 percent. 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 122.4 in January, which was 10.5 percent ahead of December’s 110.5 and up 10.3 percent compared to January 2012.
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.
“The trucking industry started 2013 with a bang, reflected in the best January tonnage report in five years,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement. “While I believe that the overall economy will be sluggish in the first quarter, trucking likely benefited in January from an inventory destocking that transpired late last year, thus boosting volumes more than normal early this year as businesses replenish those lean inventories.”
This thesis was supported in a research note by BB&T Capital Markets analyst Thom Albrecht in a research note.
“Numerous shippers stated that they are planning to move spring freight earlier than normal,” he wrote. “This occurred last year due to the historically mild winter, but this year is being driven more by not being caught in a capacity crunch, which most believe will at least partially happen in the second quarter. Over the last decade truck volumes have peaked from May through early July, whereas in decades before it was September through early November. Combined with housing finally having legs, we believe that shipping spring and summer products early is a viable way to manage capacity risk.”
Along with the benefits of an inventory destocking, an improving housing market may serve as another driver of early 2013 tonnage. But at the same time, many front and center items, including the battle over the federal budget, serve as significant headwinds for economic improvement.
Shippers and carriers have explained that they expect current volumes and market conditions to largely remain at current levels, due to the nation’s fiscal challenges, too.
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