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posted on 22 July 2016

Trucking Tonnage Points To A Slowing Economy In June 2016

Written by Steven Hansen

Truck shipments were reported down in June - even the BLS employment data was very weak.

ATA Trucking

The American Trucking Associations' (ATA) trucking index decreased 1.5 % in June, following a gain in May.

From ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello:

The seesaw pattern continued again in June with tonnage falling after a good rise in May. On a month-to-month basis, tonnage has been down in three of the last four months, totaling 4.7% since February.

Looking ahead, I expect the freight environment will remain choppy. The good news for trucking is we are the most diverse mode of all freight transportation sectors between industrial and consumer freight. We are currently benefiting from the consumer side while being hurt on the industrial side. And of course we still have the inventory glut that is weighing down tonnage.

Truck tonnage this month

z truck.jpg

Compared with one year ago, seasonally adjusted tonnage increased 2.1 %.

Econintersect tries to validate ATA truck data across data sources. It appears this month that jobs growth says the trucking industry employment levels were down 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

Weak Q1 Economics Pull FTR's Trucking Conditions Index Up in April

FTR's Trucking Conditions Index (TCI) for May fell to its lowest level since 2011 at a reading of 1.69, nearly five points lower than the previous month. Negatively affecting truckers are lower freight rates and capacity utilization that has dropped below 95%. Looking forward, trucking companies could benefit from a reinstatement of the hours-of-service 34-hour restart conditions that have been batted around in the halls of Congress this summer. If a version of the regulation does go into effect it would likely tighten capacity enough to move pricing. The TCI is currently forecasted to rise into the mid-single digits later in the year, reflecting weak economics up against expected regulatory drag combining to neutralize positive and negative factors affecting the trucking sector.



Freight shipments and expenditures edged up in June after three months of lackluster performance. For the first five months of 2016, U.S. exports were down 6.9 percent compared to 2015, while imports were down 5.2 percent for the same period. These obviously had put a damper on freight performance. GDP growth was 1.1 percent for the first quarter of 2016, slower than the 1.4 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2015. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's GDPNow model predicts second quarter GDP of 2.3 percent. The huge jump in employment in June is mostly for service sector jobs. There was virtually no change in transportation, construction, manufacturing or warehousing employment in June. Manufacturing was beginning to stir back to life with positive growth in production and new orders, according to the Institute for Supply Management's PMI Indexes.

The June freight shipments index climbed 1.7 percent. This was 4.3 percent below last year and 7.6 percent lower than June 2014. Stores are already stocking school supplies, which accounts for some of the rise. After particularly slow traffic in April and May, the Association of American Railroads reports that carload shipments rose 29.3 percent and intermodal shipments jumped 23.4 percent in June. The ATA reported that May truck tonnage was up 2.7 percent. DAT reported that spot market loads increased 28 percent in June—indicating that truck tonnage should be up in June also. June's shipments are in step with patterns that have been observed in the past few years, but are still well below the volume in the last two years. July usually sees a dip in the number of freight shipments, but the first part of July seems to be fairly robust.



Although the data for trucking does not correlate, we can assume trucking growth is sluggish and is trending downward.

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