The decline in truck tonnage accelerated in May, as the seasonally adjusted for-hire truck tonnage index dropped 2.3 percent after falling 0.6 percent in April.
On a year-over-year basis, the American Trucking Associations for-hire truck tonnage index rose only 2.7 percent in May, its lowest increase since February 2010, a new sign that the slowdown in the American economy was reaching into the transportation world.
“Truck tonnage over the last four months shows that the economy definitely hit a soft patch this spring,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “With our index falling in three of the last four months totaling 3.7 percent, it is clear why there is some renewed anxiety over the economic recovery."
That signals a return to “cautious optimism” for an industry that expected stronger growth in 2011 after an inventory restocking-based freight surge last year.
Costello attributed some of the drop in tonnage to higher oil and fuel prices and supply chain disruptions caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. He still expects economic activity and freight volume to improve in coming months, as fuel prices drop and supply chain problems are sorted out.
“I believe this was a soft patch and not a slide back into recession, and we should see better, but not great, economic activity in the months ahead,” he said.