ATA Truck Tonnage Index Jumped 1.4% in September
The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 1.4% in September, which matched the August gain. (August’s increase was unchanged from what ATA reported on September 24, 2013.) In September, the SA index equaled 128.7 (2000=100) versus 126.9 in August. Compared with September 2012, the SA index surged 8.4%, which is the largest year-over-year gain since December 2011. Year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2012, the tonnage index is up 5.4%.
The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 128.1 in September, which was 2.5% below the previous month (131.3).
“I continue to be pleasantly surprised on the strength of truck tonnage,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “I attribute a part of tonnage’s robustness to the sectors of the economy that are growing fastest, like housing construction, auto production, and energy output. These industries produce heavier than average freight, which leads to faster growth in tonnage versus a load or shipment measure.
“While tonnage is likely running ahead of overall economic growth, perhaps the economy is stronger than many believe. The index has now increased in four of the last five months and the year-over-year growth rate has accelerated. Plus, other measures of truck freight volumes, while increasing at a slower pace than tonnage, have also accelerated in recent months,” he said. “However, the government shutdown served as a headwind in the fourth quarter.”
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 68.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 9.4 billion tons of freight in 2012. Motor carriers collected $642.1 billion, or 80.7% 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.