DOT Releases Latest Freight Tonnage Analysis

By Eric G Braun, Senior Writer, USRW               

Although the Truck Tonnage Index fell 6.2 % in December, The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose 1.0 percent in December from November. This is a rise for the third consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). The December 2016 index level (124.7) was 31.7 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

The trucking index may sound alarming for December, but it leveled out the 8.4 % increase in November. The November index was revised to 123.5 from 123.2 in last month’s release.  Monthly numbers for August through October were revised up slightly, and monthly numbers from January through June were revised down slightly.

The TSI tells us how the output of transportation services has increased or decreased from month to month. The index can be examined together with other economic indicators to produce a better understanding of the current and future course of the economy.   The movement of the index over time can be compared with other economic measures to understand the relationship of changes in transportation output to changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The TSI uses seasonally adjusted data on for-hire freight and passenger transportation services to create three indexes measuring monthly changes in transportation services output from the base year of 2000. The three indexes are for-hire freight shipments, passenger travel, and a combined measure that merges freight and passenger indexes. Release of the December 2016 index is scheduled for March 8.

The December Freight TSI grew by 1.0 percent from the previous month due to increases in trucking, pipeline, rail intermodal, and water, while air freight and rail carloads declined. Economic growth drove the December increase. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index rose by 0.8 percent in December, with growth in both manufacturing and utilities, even as mining production declined.  Employment grew in December, though housing starts were off by 0.2 percent.

The 1.0 percent increase in December was the third consecutive monthly Freight TSI increase. These three months of increases, following two months of declines brought Freight TSI to its highest level ever, matching the record high level of 124.7 in July 2016. The December level was 2.9 percent above the level at the start of 2016.

The Transportation Services Index (TSI) is a measure of the month-to-month changes in the output of services provided by the for-hire transportation industries.  The freight index measure changes in freight shipments while the passenger index measures changes in passenger travel.

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