ATA Truck Tonnage Index edges off 0.7% in May

The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.7% in May after falling 1.1% in April. (April’s loss was the same as ATA reported on May 22.) The latest drop lowered the seasonally adjusted index to 117.8 (2000=100), down from April’s level of 118.7. Compared with May 2011, the SA index was 4.1% higher, the largest year-over-year increase since February 2012. Year-to-date, compared with the same period last year, tonnage was up 3.8%.

If not seasonally adjusted, the index equaled 124.5 in May, up 6.5% above the previous month.

“Two straight months of contractions is disappointing,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “The drops in tonnage are reflective of the broader economy, which has slowed.”

“The good news is that the decrease in fuel prices will help support retail sales going forward, which is a big part of truck tonnage,” he said. As a negative, Costello said he’s concerned about businesses sitting on cash instead of hiring more workers or spending it on capital, both of which would give the economy and tonnage a shot in the arm, as they are worried about Europe and the so-called U.S. fiscal cliff at the end of the year. He also reiterated last month’s comment: “Annualized tonnage growth should be in the 3% to 3.9% range this year.”

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 67.2% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 9 billion tons of freight in 2010. Motor carriers collected $563.4 billion, or 81.2% 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.

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