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Truck tonnage off 1.3% in May

The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 1.3% in May, marking the second consecutive month-to-month drop. In April, tonnage fell 2.2%.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the tonnage index declined to a six-month low of 110.6 (2000 = 100) in May from 112.1 the previous month. Compared with a year earlier, tonnage was down 3.6%, the largest year-over-year drop since January 2007.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that while May’s numbers were disappointing, they fit with the anecdotal reports from many fleets.

“Most carriers indicated that volumes were soft and spotty in May, which was clearly reflected in our index,” he said.

ATA’s index underscored the Federal Reserve’s June 13 Beige Book, which stated that declines were widely reported in trucking volumes from mid-April through the end of May. The Beige Book is an anecdotal account of economic activity.

Costello said one of the primary reasons for the continued year-over-year index contractions is that manufacturing activity by weight, not value, fell again in May. Manufacturing activity declined 1.4% when compared with the same month in 2006. This marked the seventh consecutive month that this weight-based manufacturing measure fell.

“The fact that the year-over-year comparison for truck tonnage worsened to a negative 3.6% from April’s minus 2.7% is troubling,” said Costello. “We fully anticipated a contraction, but the fact that it deteriorated may mean that more volatility is in store. Unfortunately, we won’t have a good feel for the direction of volumes until we see June’s data.”

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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