ARLINGTON, Va. — The American Trucking Associations’ advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.5 percent in February, following a revised 1.9 percent increase in January. The latest drop put the SA index at 108.5 (2000=100), down from 109.1 in January. The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 97.6 in February, down 0.8 percent from the previous month.
Compared with February 2009, SA tonnage increased 2.6 percent, which was the third consecutive year-over-year gain. For the first two months of 2010, SA tonnage was up 3.5 percent compared with the same period last year. For all of 2009, the tonnage index contracted 8.7 percent, which was the largest annual decrease since 1982.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that the February tonnage reading is difficult to interpret because of the severe winter storms that impacted truck freight movements during the month, particularly on the East Coast. However, he remains optimistic about the recovery for the industry. “I continue to hear from motor carriers that both the demand and supply situations are steadily improving.. Certainly it will take a while to make up the ground lost during the recession, but the industry is on the path to recovery.” Costello said he expects to see some volatility on a month-to-month basis throughout this year, but the trend line should be for moderate growth.
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, we include 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. Nevertheless, some carriers are picking up freight from failures, and it may have boosted the index. Due to our correction mentioned above, however, it should be limited.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing nearly 69 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.2 billion tons of freight in 2008. Motor carriers collected $660.3 billion, or 83.1 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.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.