American Trucking Association’s truck tonnage index plunged 12.2% in April

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Blue semi on highway
American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index contracted 12.2% in April, the largest decline since the April 1994 labor strike.

ARLINGTON, Va. — American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index contracted 12.2% in April after increasing 0.4% in March. In April, the index equaled 104.9 (2015=100) compared with 119.5 in March.

“April’s monthly decline was the largest in 26 years, when there was a labor strike in April 1994,” said Bob Costello, chief economist for ATA.

“Considering that April factory output and retail sales plummeted, the large drop in truck freight is not surprising,” he continued. “However, not all fleets saw large declines in April. Those hauling food for grocery stores and those involved in the online retail supply chain outperformed most other fleets. Some fleets witnessed very large declines in freight last month.”

March’s gain was revised down to 0.4% from the 1.2% increase reported in ATA’s initial April 21 report.

“These historic declines show just how much trucking was impacted by our national response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Costello said. “As the nation starts taking small steps toward reopening, we should see some modest improvements in the freight market, but the size of April’s decline gives us an idea of how long the road back may be.”

Compared to April 2019, the seasonally adjusted index contracted 11.3%, the largest year-over-year decline since early 2009. This drop was preceded by a 3.5% year-over-year gain in March. Year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2019, tonnage was down 1.3%.

The not-seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 104.6 in April, 12.8% below the March level (120). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 71.4% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.49 billion tons of freight in 2018. Motor carriers collected $796.7 billion, or 80.3% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

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

April 2020 Tonnage Graph
April 2020 Tonnage: Courtesy of American Trucking Associations

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