The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index climbed 3.0% in January 2009, marking only the second month-to-month increase in the last seven months. Still, the gain did little to erase the revised 7.8% contraction in December 2008. In January, the seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled just 104.7 (2000 = 100), its second-lowest level since October 2002. In January, the not seasonally adjusted index fell 4.4% from the previous month to 97.2.
ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.
Compared with January 2008, the index declined 10.8%, which was slightly better than December’s 12.5% year-over-year drop.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that there was no reason to get excited about January’s 3.0% month-to-month improvement. “Tonnage will not fall every month, and just because it rises every now and then doesn’t mean the economy is on the mend,” Costello said. “Furthermore, tonnage is contracting significantly on a year-over-year basis, which is highlighting the current weakness in the freight environment.” Costello also noted that any sustained recovery in tonnage is still months away.
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. This assumes 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 US economy, representing nearly 70% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.7 billion tons of freight in 2006. Motor carriers collected $645.6 billion, or 83.8% 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.