ATA: Truck tonnage index “jumped” 2.2% in December

Reflecting the choppy waters motor carriers are still steering through as the economy slowly swells, The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 2.2% in December after having fallen a revised 0.6% in November

Reflecting the choppy waters motor carriers are still steering through as the economy slowly swells, The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 2.2% in December after having fallen a revised 0.6% in November.

This latest improvement put the SA index at 111.6 (2000=100) in December—marking its highest level since September 2008. In November, the SA index equaled 109.2.

According to ATA chief economist Bob Costello, December’s improvement fits well with the “see-saw pattern that many carriers are reporting.”

ATA pointed out that the not seasonally adjusted index-- which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment-- equaled 107.2 in December, which was down 1.0% from the previous month.

Compared with December 2009, SA tonnage climbed 4.2%, which was higher than November’s 3.3% year-over-year increase.

For all of 2010, tonnage was up 5.7% over 2009. In 2009, the index had “plunged” 8.7%, ATA noted.

“Fleets continue to tell me that freight volumes are very choppy – up one week, but down the next,” said Costello. “That is a trend that is likely to continue this year as the economy is not growing across the board yet.”

However, on a more upbeat note, he pointed out that it was a positive sign for the economy that SA tonnage has reached its highest level in 27 months. “I continue to expect truck freight tonnage to grow modestly during the first half of 2011 and accelerate in the later half of the year into 2012,” Costello added.

Also, it should be noted that ATA explained how it accounts for the impact of trucking company failures on the index. “Each month, ATA asks its membership the amount of tonnage each carrier hauled, including all types of freight. The indexes are calculated based on those responses. The sample includes an array of trucking companies, ranging from small fleets to multi-billion dollar carriers. When a company in the sample fails, we include its final month of operation and zero it out for the following month, with the assumption that the remaining carriers pick up that freight. As a result, it is close to a net wash and does not end up in a false increase. Nevertheless, some carriers are picking up freight from failures and it may have boosted the index. Due to our correction mentioned above however, it should be limited.”

The trucking lobby also stated that it “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 [final] report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.”

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