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ATA Truck Tonnage Index surges 2.3% in May

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 67 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.

The Trucker News Services

6/18/2013

ARLINGTON, Va. — The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index jumped 2.3 percent in May after falling 0.2 percent in April. (The 0.2 percent drop in April was unchanged from what ATA reported on May 21, 2013.)

In May, the SA index equaled 126.0 (2000=100) versus 123.2 in April. May 2013 is the highest level on record, surpassing the previous high in December 2011(124.3). Compared with May 2012, the SA index surged 6.7 percent, which is the largest year-over-year gain since December 2011. Year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2012, the tonnage index is up 4.5 percent.

The not seasonally-adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 132.7 in May, which was 5.4 percent above the previous month (125.9).

“After bouncing around in a fairly tight band during the previous three months, tonnage skyrocketed in May,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. Some of the increase is attributable to factory output rising in May for the first time since February (+0.2 percent) and retail sales performing stronger than expected in May (+0.6 percent). Costello added, “The 6.8 percent surge in new housing starts during May obviously pushed tonnage up as home construction generates a significant amount of truck tonnage.”

“While we heard good reports regarding freight levels during May, I have to admit I am a little surprised at the large gain in tonnage,” Costello said. He added that tonnage continues to outpace the number of loads hauled as heavy freight (e.g., housing construction materials and sand and water for hydraulic fracturing) is outperforming box trailer (i.e., dry van) freight.

 Note on the impact of trucking company failures on the index: Each month, ATA asks its membership the amount of tonnage each carrier hauled, including all types of freight. The indexes are calculated based on those responses. The sample includes an array of trucking companies, ranging from small fleets to multi-billion dollar carriers.

When a company in the sample fails, ATA includes its final month of operation and zero it out for the following month, with the assumption that the remaining carriers pick up that freight. As a result, it is close to a net wash and does not end up in a false increase, stated ATA’s news release on tonnage figures. Nevertheless, some carriers are picking up freight from failures and it may have boosted the index. Due to the correction mentioned above however, it should be limited, the release further stated.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 67 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 9.2 billion tons of freight in 2011. Motor carriers collected $603.9 billion, or 80.9 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

 ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around the 10th day of the month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.

 The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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