The American Trucking Associations (ATA) advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index fell 3.3 percent in March 2008, after remaining unchanged in February.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said the latest tonnage reading was a significant setback. “I’ve been concerned that the recent run-up in tonnage might not be sustainable, and clearly March’s figures confirmed that apprehension,” he said. The 3.3 percent drop was the largest month-to-month contraction since August 2006.
The not seasonally adjusted index increased 3.8 percent from February to 113.2.
The seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled 113.4 (2000 = 100) in March, its lowest level since November 2007. Additionally, tonnage contracted 0.2 percent compared with March 2007, marking the first year-over-year decrease in the index since October 2007.
Costello continued to forecast a mild recession for the overall economy during the first half of 2008, but noted that March’s tonnage drop might suggest the economic contraction could be more severe than previously thought.
“Truck tonnage often leads both recoveries and recessions, and the latest contraction suggests the economy and trucking are not out of the woods yet,” Costello said. “Surging diesel and gasoline prices are weighing heavily on consumers, and since trucks haul virtually all consumer goods at some point in the supply chain, the industry is going to be significantly impacted both directly through higher diesel prices and indirectly through lower freight volumes.”
Trucking serves as a barometer of the US economy because it represents 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.
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.