ARLINGTON, VA —The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index was unchanged in July after increasing 1.1% in June. (June’s gain was slightly smaller than the 1.2% increase ATA reported on July 25.) In July, the SA index stayed at 118.8 (2000=100). Compared with July 2011, the SA index was 4.1% higher, which was the largest year-over-year gain since February 2012. Year-to-date, compared with the same period last year, tonnage was up 3.7%.
The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 119.4 in July, which was 2.8% below the previous month.
“July’s reading reflects an economy that has lost some steam, but hasn’t stalled,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “Certainly there has been some better economic news recently, but I continue to believe we will see some deceleration in tonnage during the second half of the year, if for nothing else but very tough comparisons on a robust August through December period in 2011.”
Costello said he believes the slowdown in new factory orders will constrain manufacturing output, which will impact truck freight volumes. Additionally, he is concerned about the recent jump in the total business (manufacturing, wholesale, and retail) inventory-to-sales ratio. “Unintended gains in inventories will hit trucking negatively as the supply chain works off stocks.” Costello kept his tonnage outlook for 2012 to the 3% to 3.5% range as reported last month.
Note on 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.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 67% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 9.2 billion tons of freight in 2011. Motor carriers collected $603.9 billion, or 80.9% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.
ATA 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 report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.