Freight volumes still lag

Freight volumes still lag

A 4.5% decrease this March in the for-hire truck index compiled by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) isn’t much of a surprise to major carriers -- merely a reflection of their own data that freight volumes remain extremely sluggish through the first three months of this year.

A 4.5% decrease this March in the for-hire truck index compiled by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) isn't much of a surprise to major carriers-- merely a reflection of their own data that freight volumes remain extremely sluggish through the first three months of this year.

"Weak freight demand, excess tractor and trailer capacity in the truckload industry, and significant rate pressure from customers and freight brokers led to an approximately 8.2% reduction in our average freight revenue per tractor per week," said David Parker, chairman, president & CEO of Covenant Transportation in its first-quarter earnings report. "Also, the economy in the southeastern U.S. continues to be even more depressed than the overall U.S. economy."

"Although [this period] is traditionally the slowest from a seasonal perspective, January and February 2009 financial results were heavily impacted by major declines in freight volumes between the U.S. and Mexico and Canada," noted Steve Russell, chairman & CEO of Celadon Group in the carrier's earnings report for its third fiscal quarter.

"U.S. government surface transportation statistics indicate a decline of 27% for the month of January 2009 vs. January 2008," he added. "A decline in U.S. imports, relating to the weakness of the U.S. economy, we believe was a principal factor."

Bob Costello, chief economist for the ATA, said he also wasn't too surprised at March's reading, nor that freight levels remain at historic lows.

"Many fleets were telling us during March that freight was getting a little better. The problem is that freight should be significantly better in March, which is why the seasonally adjusted index fell," he said. "While the industry is desperate for some positive news, it is unfortunate that March's data suggests the industry has not hit bottom just yet."

ATA's advanced seasonally adjusted for-hire truck tonnage index fell 4.5 percent in March marked the first month-to-month decrease of 2009 and wiped out the 4.5% gain in freight compiled over January and February.

Compared with March 2008, tonnage contracted 12.2%, which was the second-worst year-over-year decrease of the current cycle, noted Costello – the worst being December 2008, when tonnage dropped 12.5% from the same month one year earlier.

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