Trucking Tonnage Index Shows Slight Increase

As one of the barometers of the nation’s economy, the truck tonnage tracked by the American Trucking Association (ATA) showed a slight increase of 0.4 percent in September. The increase, which is based on the ATA’s seasonally adjusted (SA) index of For-Hire Truck Tonnage, was an improvement over the August number which had recorded a decline of 0.9 percent.

The tonnage index increase was due to an increase in housing starts according to ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. He felt that it might have been even greater had it not been affected by the flat manufacturing output and an oversupply of inventories within the supply chain of manufacturers. The 0.4 percent increase in September put the index back to near where it was in January 2012. The index was about 2.4 higher than last September but still represented the smallest annual increase since 2009.

Costello was encouraged by the higher seasonally adjusted index numbers especially since things had been declining year-over-year since 2009. He anticipates that the tonnage will increase for the remainder of 2012 bringing the annual amount to about 3.5 percent. The not seasonally adjusted (NSA) index number was 115.3 in September but after seasonal adjustment, the number was 118.7.

Dating back to the 1970s, the ATA index is determined by summing up the monthly tonnage from a survey of trucking companies that include both large and small carriers. The ATA canvasses fleets from the smallest all the way up to the companies with revenues in the multi-billion dollar range. The sample size, which is kept confidential, uses the tonnage from a variety of freights. This includes LTL and TL segments of the trucking industry. If a company fails during the year, the final month’s information is used and the remaining months are zeroed out. Some companies may gain the freight of a failed carrier and the index makes an effort to account for that. However, in some cases the index may not completely capture the tonnage in these situations.

The ATA report is issued on the 10th of each month and includes a variety of trucking data. Month-to-month and year-over-year numbers are included along with other economic and financial indicators that are used by those in the trucking industry as well as economists around the nation.

Since trucking often provides a good indicator of the health of the U.S. economy, the ATA index plays an important role in economic analysis. Trucking can account for 67 percent of the tonnage hauled by all forms of freight transportation in the United States. Carriers in the trucking industry hauled more than 9 billion tons of manufactured and retail goods in 2011. This translates into just over $600 billion in revenue which is about 80 percent of the total earned by the different modes of transportation in this country. While September’s modest uptick in the SA index is welcomed, it is expected that tonnage will continue to be flat for the remainder of the 2012.

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