The 2.7% decline in the American Trucking Assn. (ATA) for-hire truck tonnage index recorded for August isn’t surprising to most industry experts, as they generally expect truck freight volumes to remain erratic for the rest of 2010.
“We expect freight volumes to remain fairly choppy going forward through the end of 2010,” Eric Starks, president of FTR Associates, told Fleet Owner. “So far, from what we’re seeing, freight volumes are neither stronger nor weaker than what we expected.”
That 2.7% drop in the ATA tonnage index is the largest month-to-month decrease since March of 2009. Year-to-date, however, the truck lobbying group said tonnage is actually up 6.2% compared to the same period last year.
“We fully anticipate sluggish economic growth for the remainder of this year and the latest tonnage numbers are reflecting that slowdown,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist. “While I’d much rather see better tonnage figures, motor carriers can now do better with small increases in demand since so much supply left the industry during the recession.”
FTR’s research indicates trucking capacity shrank from 25% to 35% during the recession. And that alone should enable fleets to command higher freight rates, even with just a modest increase in demand.
“We are in a happy time for trucking and it will probably get better – even though monthly truck freight volumes continue to swing, showing the effect of the general economic ‘pause’ we’re [the U.S.] is experiencing,” said Noel Perry, senior consultant with FTR and principal of research firm Transport Fundamentals.
“However, we are still way below the previous freight peak [of 2006] and it will take us until at least 2013 to get back to it,” Perry added.