The American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index jumped 3.7 percent in November, erasing October’s 3.7 percent drop.
November’s gain was the first since July of this year and, as a result, the SA index equaled 118.0 in November versus 113.8 in October. Compared with November 2011, the SA index was up 1 percent, after contracting 2.1 percent on a year-over-year basis in October. Year-to-date, compared with the same period last year, tonnage was up 2.8 percent.
The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 115.7 in November, which was 6.5 percent below the previous month.
“Sandy impacted both October’s and November’s tonnage readings,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said, “but it was still good to see tonnage snap back in November.”
Costello added he expects a boost to flatbed tonnage from the rebuilding in the areas impacted by Sandy, but most of that won’t happen until the spring when the money starts flowing and the weather is conducive to building.
“Outside of Sandy, if the fiscal cliff isn’t fixed in time, expect a slowdown in tonnage early next year as paychecks shrink for all households,” Costello said. “Since trucks account for the vast majority of deliveries in the retail supply, any reduction in consumer spending will hurt.” Costello added that even if we don’t go off the fiscal cliff, he expects slower tonnage growth in 2013 than 2012 as better housing starts and auto sales will be offset by slower factory output and consumer spending.
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 percent 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 percent 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 tenth day of the month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.