Freight volumes are up and, in combination with other metrics, are reassuring analysts that even through overall economic growth remains sluggish, the U.S. isn’t slipping back into a recession.
The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) reports that its for-hire truck tonnage index increased 0.5% in October, which follows a 1.5% increase in September. Compared with the same month last year, October’s freight numbers are up 5.7% and are just 4.4% below the index’s all-time high recorded in January 2005, the trade group noted.
“Tonnage readings continue to show that the economy is growing and not sliding back into recession,” said Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist, in a statement.
“Over the last two months, tonnage is up nearly 2% and is just shy of the recent high in January of this year,” he added. “Manufacturing output has been the primary reason why truck freight volumes are increasing more than GDP [gross domestic product]. The industrial sector should slow next year, but still grow more than GDP, which means truck tonnage can increase faster than GDP.”
H. Peter Nesvold, an equity analyst for investment firm Jeffries & Co., noted that his firm’s research “suggests that TL supply and demand remains fairly balanced and that the strength in volumes has continued into November [and] we continue to forecast tonnage growth of 3 to 5% for the full year.”
More importantly, Nesvold stressed that freight numbers now resemble a more “typical” tonnage cycle, which bodes well for the overall economy.
“We compared this current tonnage cycle to our truck composite model, which aggregates truck tonnage data over the past 40 years,” he explained. “We found that this tonnage cycle has been unremarkable in a historical context. Based on how devastating the ‘Great Recession’ was, we expected to see huge swings in truck tonnage relative to the ‘typical’ tonnage cycle. What we found, however, is that this tonnage cycle has been in line with historical trends.”