Truck tonnage plunges in December
Jan 30, 2009 8:46 AM
The American Trucking Associationsí (ATA) advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index plunged 11.1 percent in December 2008, marking the largest month-to-month reduction since April 1994.
In April 1994, the unionized less-than-truckload industry was in the midst of a strike, according to ATA data.
The 2008 Decemberís drop was the third-largest single-month drop since ATA began collecting the data in 1973. In December, the seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled just 98.3 (2000 = 100), its lowest level since December 2000. The not seasonally adjusted index edged 0.6 percent higher in December.
Compared with December 2007, the index declined 14.1 percent, the biggest year-over-year decrease since February 1996. During the fourth quarter, tonnage was down 6.0 percent from the same quarter in 2007.
"The December reading confirms that the United States is in the thick of a recession," said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. "Motor carrier freight is a reflection of the tangible-goods economy, and Decemberís numbers leave no doubt that the United States is in the worst recession in decades. It is likely truck tonnage will not improve much before the third quarter of this year. The economy is expected to contract through the first half of 2009 and then only grow slightly through the end of the year."
ATA noted that each month, the association 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. This assumes 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 US economy, representing nearly 70 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.7 billion tons of freight in 2006. Motor carriers collected $645.6 billion, or 83.8 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.
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