Monthly Tonnage Index Still a Lopsided Offset

By Eric G Braun, Senior Writer, USRW

Overall, our industry is like a boat in the storm, dramatically rolling up one side and shifting to the other side. That was the basic analysis in the Truck Tonnage index, which during the month of January rose to offset part of the shortage in December. The whole year of 2016, saw just that-- big gains one month, and big losses the next, almost as if it were a timing issue, instead of hard core logistics, coupled with the everchanging economics.

Just like Vegas, once all the numbers were crunched and Peter was robbed to pay Paul, the overall figure for the year is that tonnage was up 2.5%

American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 2.9% in January, following a 4.3% decrease during December.  In January, the index equaled 138.8 (2000=100), up from 134.9 in December. The all-time high was 142.7 in February 2016.

Compared with January 2016, the SA index increased 2.6%. In December, the index fell 0.2% on a year-over-year basis. For all of 2016, tonnage was up 2.5%.

ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.  

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 131.6 in January, which was 1.8% below the previous month (133.9).

“The freight economy is starting to show some signs of life, and January’s truck tonnage numbers are a good step forward,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “Hopefully the ups and downs in truck tonnage during 2016 will not be as pronounced in 2017."

“Looking ahead, the most recent positive sign for truck tonnage is the large drop in the inventory-to-sales ratio during December. The decrease put inventories throughout the supply chain, relative to sales, to the lowest level in two years. There is no doubt that the inventory glut was a drag on truck freight volumes last year,” he said.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 70.1% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled nearly 10.5 billion tons of freight in 2015. Motor carriers collected $726.4 billion, or 81.2% 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.


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