ATA Truck Tonnage Drops 0.7% in April

The American Trucking Associations’ advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.7 percent in April after gaining a revised 1.9 percent in March 2011. March’s increase was slightly better than the 1.7 percent ATA reported on April 26, 2011. The latest drop put the SA index at 114.9 (2000=100) in April, down from the March level of 115.6.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 113.6 in April, which was 8 percent below the previous month.

Compared with April 2010, SA tonnage climbed 4.8 percent. In March, the tonnage index was 6.5 percent above a year earlier.

“The drop in April is not a concern. Since freight volumes are so volatile truck tonnage is unlikely to grow every month, even on a seasonally adjusted basis,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “I expect economic activity, and with it truck freight levels to grow at a moderate pace in the coming months and quarters.”

“The industry, and the economy at large, should benefit from the recent declines in oil and diesel prices. Lower fuel costs will help freight volumes and motor carrier bottom lines going forward.”

Reacting to the news, Jefferies & Company, Inc, said, “We continue to forecast tonnage growth of +3% to +5% in 2011.”

Jefferies said dry van pricing remains strong. Despite the slowdown in volumes, dry van pricing jumped from +8.1% year-over-year in February to +9.6% year-over-year in March.

“We think these gains are strongest in the long- and medium-haul portions of the market — not short-haul,” Jefferies said.

“We care most about dry van loads and pricing, as well as trends in the short-haul segment, as most of the public TLs are skewed toward these areas. To this end, dry van pricing continues to track at the high-end of our expectations, although the short-haul segment turned negative: Short-haul pricing dropped 3.9% year-over-year in March. Meanwhile, dry van loads fell 7.3% in March. Based on the seasonal weakness in January and February, 1Q:11 is not a good predictor of full-year freight performance. However, it will be important for volumes and (to a lesser extent) pricing to improve as the year progresses in order to meet investor expectations.”

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