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posted on 29 March 2016

Trucking Tonnage Improved in February 2016

Truck shipments are reported up in February - with one index showing significant year-over-year growth whilst the other showing year-over-year contraction.

ATA Trucking

The American Trucking Associations' (ATA) trucking index improved 7.2 % in February, following a revised 0.3% decline in January. February's level is an all-time high.

From ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello:

While it is nice to see a strong February, I caution everyone not read too much into it. The strength was mainly due to a weaker than average January, including bad winter storms, thus there was some catch-up going on in February. Normally, fleets report large declines to ATA in February tonnage, in the range of 5.4% to 6.7% over the last three years. So, the small increase this year yielded a big seasonally adjusted gain. If March is strong, then I'll get more excited.

I'm still concerned about the elevated inventories throughout the supply chain. Last week, the Census Bureau reported that relative to sales, inventories rose again in January, which is troubling. We need those inventories reduced before trucking can count on more consistent, better freight volumes.

Truck tonnage this month

z truck.jpg

Compared with one year ago, seasonally adjusted tonnage increased 8.6 %.

Econintersect tries to validate ATA truck data across data sources. It appears this month that jobs growth says the trucking industry employment levels were relatively unchanged month-over-month. Please note using BLS employment data in real time is risky, as their data is normally backward adjusted significantly.

This data series is not transparent and therefore cannot be relied on. Please note that the ATA does not release an unadjusted data series (although they report the unadjusted value each month - but do not report revisions to this data) where Econintersect can make an independent evaluation. The data is apparently subject to significant backward revision. Not all trucking companies are members of the ATA, and therefore it is unknown if this data is a representative sampling of the trucking industry.

source: ATA

FTR's Trucking Conditions Index January Reflects Slow Growth for Truck Freight

FFTR's Trucking Conditions Index (TCI) measure for January begins to reflect slowing growth patterns for trucking transportation. With a reading of 9.05, the index fell from a recent high of 10.88 in December. Current freight demand can easily be handled by current carrier capacity. While FTR forecasts a modest recovery from weak January truck loadings, the rebound will be in line with modest freight growth.



The number of North American freight shipments in February shot up 8.3 percent from January, erasing January's decline, while expenditures for freight shipments gained 6.3 percent (not quite overcoming January's drop). The strong growth in freight in February is the expected trend, but the recent fourmonth slide in freight traffic put the starting point for 2016 significantly lower than in the last several years. Economic growth slowed more than expected in the fourth quarter of 2015 and continued into January.

The robust turnaround this month signals improvement, but current economic conditions do not support a robust rebound. Global markets are still weak—especially with China's economic turmoil—which is reducing demand; the U.S. dollar remains strong, making our export goods more expensive on world markets; consumers are in a stronger position with positive income growth, but still remain conservative in their spending; and more growth has been seen in the purchase of services (eating out, hotels, airfare, movies, etc.) rather than goods purchases. Inventories remain very high in the goods sectors, which has reduced imports and domestic manufacturing.



There is no way to draw any conclusion on truck shipments. The data reported is contradictory. Sometimes data points do not fit. Maybe part of the problem is that this is a leap year.

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