ATA’s October Truck Tonnage Index down 6.3% from September, 8.7% below October 2019

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October’s drop in for-hire truck tonnage could be attributed to COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bob Costello, chief economist for American Trucking Associations.

ARLINGTON, Va. — American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 6.3% in October after gaining 5.7% in September. In October, the index equaled 106.8 (2015=100) compared with 114 in September.

“While there are indications that the economy is losing momentum, I believe October’s tonnage softness was more of a seasonal issue during a pandemic than anything else,” said Bob Costello, chief economist for ATA.

“Typical seasonality is off this year, and it was a reason why October was down so much. Not seasonally adjusted tonnage was down a fraction as much as normal over the last five years during September, leading to a big seasonally adjusted gain,” he continued. “However, that means October’s not seasonally adjusted tonnage grew less than half as much as it typically does, leading to a big drop in the seasonally adjusted figure. There are plenty of carriers still saying that tonnage, retail tonnage in particular, is good.”

ATA October Tonnage GraphSeptember’s gain was revised down to 5.7% from ATA’s October 20 press release.

Compared to October 2019, the seasonally adjusted index contracted 8.7%, the seventh straight year-over-year decline. Year to date, compared with the same period in 2019, tonnage is down 3.9%.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 114.4 in October, 2.7% above the September level of 111.4. In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015. ATA’s For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index is dominated by contract freight as opposed to spot market freight.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 72.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.84 billion tons of freight in 2019. Motor carriers collected $791.7 billion, or 80.4% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around the fifth of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.

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