The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 0.9% in June from May, rising for the second consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). From June 2019 to June 2020, the index fell 7.6% compared to a rise of 1.2% from June 2018 to June 2019 and a rise of 8.7% from June 2017 to June 2018 (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

The level of for-hire freight shipments in June measured by the Freight TSI (128.3) was 9.1% below the all-time high level of 141.2 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The May index was revised to 127.1 from 127.4 in last month’s release. Monthly numbers for January, February, and April were revised down slightly. March was revised up slightly.

BTS is withholding the scheduled release of the passenger and combined indexes for June. The passenger index for June is a statistical estimate of airline passenger travel and other components based on historical trends up to May 2020. The statistical estimate does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on the historical trend. Air freight for June is also a statistical estimate. Since air freight makes up a smaller part of the freight index, the freight TSI is being released as scheduled with the air freight estimate included. The May passenger and combined indexes are available on the BTS website.

The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, which are combined into one index. The index measures the output of the for-hire freight transportation industry and consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. The TSI is seasonally-adjusted to remove regular seasons from month-to-month comparisons.

Analysis: The Freight TSI rose 0.9% in June from May due to growth in rail intermodal, rail carload, trucking, the largest mode, and pipeline, despite declines in air freight and water. The June increase took place against the background of growth in several other indicators.

The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was up by 9.5 points to 52.6, indicating a transition to growth in manufacturing.  The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew 5.4% in June reflecting an increase of 7.2% in manufacturing and 4.2% in utilities while mining shrank. Housing starts increased by 17.3%.

Personal Income was down by 1.1%, in part reflecting a decrease in federal economic recovery payments as noted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Although the June Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the difficulty of estimating air passenger miles and other modes, the May index is now being released. The index increased 16.1% from April to May, following two months of decline, which left it below any level the Passenger TSI had been before the pandemic for the third consecutive month. All the passenger modes were up in May.  

Trend: The June increase in the Freight index was the second consecutive monthly increase following three consecutive decreases. The index remained 5.7% below its pre-pandemic level in February, and 6.2% below its recent peak in January. It is now down 9.1% below its all-time high in August 2019. The index was below the levels of every month from July 2017 to March 2020 for the third consecutive month. However, it was above every level before July 2017 when the index reached 128.4 compared to 128.3 in June 2020. For additional historical data, go to TSI data

The decline in TSI came in the context of the largest drop in quarterly GDP on record (since 1947).

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in June 2020 (128.3) were 35.2% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The June 2020 level was 9.1% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (141.2).

Year-to-date: For-hire freight shipments measured by the index were down 6.0% in June compared to the end of 2019 (Table 3).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 5.3% in the five years from June 2015 and are up 20.4% in the 10 years from June 2010 (Table 5). 

Same month of previous year: June 2020 for-hire freight shipments were down 7.6% from June 2019 (Tables 4, 5).

2nd quarter changes: The freight TSI fell 5.4% in the 2nd quarter, the largest quarterly decline since the 4th quarter of 2008 when the index fell 8.3%. The 2nd quarter decline followed a decline of 0.7% in the 1st quarter (Table 10).  

The TSI has three seasonally adjusted indexes that measure changes from the monthly average of the base year of 2000. The three indexes are freight shipments, passenger travel and a combined measure that merges the freight and passenger indexes. See Seasonally-Adjusted Transportation Data for numbers for individual modes. TSI includes data from 2000 to the present. Release of the July 2020 index is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Revisions: Monthly data has changed from previous releases due to the use of concurrent seasonal analysis, which results in seasonal analysis factors changing as each month’s data are added.    

BTS research has shown a clear relationship between economic cycles and the Freight and Passenger Transportation Services Indexes. See a study of this relationship using smoothed and detrended TSI data. Researchers who wish to compare TSI over time with other economic indicators, can use the FRED database, which includes freight, passenger and combined TSI, and which makes it possible to easily graph TSI alongside the other series in that database. See TSI data on FRED.