American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.7% in May after falling 0.6% in April. In May, the index equaled 113.7 (2015=100) compared with 114.5 in April.
“Tonnage, despite falling slightly over the last two months, remains well above the lows of last year,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “This is no small deal considering that truck tonnage fell signficantly less than many other indicators during the depths of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
“One freight segment that is helping tonnage is gasoline as demand for travel, both commuting and vacation related, picks up,” he said. “I’m also expecting retail freight to remain robust as inventories are at historic lows. As retail stocks are rebuilt, it will boost freight. As has been the case for some time, trucking’s biggest challenges are not on the demand side, but on the supply side, including difficulty finding qualified drivers.”
April’s reading was revised down slightly to -0.6% from our May 18 press release.
Compared with May 2020, the SA index rose 3.7%, which was preceded by a 6.7% year-over-year jump in April. Year-to-date, compared with the same five months in 2020, tonnage is up 0.4%.
The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 113.8 in May, 0.2% below the April level (114). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015. ATA’s For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index is dominated by contract freight as opposed to spot market freight.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 72.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.84 billion tons of freight in 2019. Motor carriers collected $791.7 billion, or 80.4% 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 5th day of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.