February Truck Tonnage Slips But Overall Indicators Remain Positive

March 22, 2011

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Today we are looking at the latest freight tonnage figures recently published for February:
After January's surge in truck tonnages, which set a new record and beat the year-on-year numbers, February has experienced a slight roll-back in tonnage hauled according to the American Trucking Association (ATA).
The ATA maintains the For-Hire Tonnage Index, and after being adjusted for some seasonal variation the February ratio indicated a drop of 2.9%. The biggest cause is thought to be the winter storms which affected much of the manufacturing heartland of the country. December and January returned a combined increase of 6.1%, and the February dip has not reversed the overall trend in increasing tonnage being hauled.
There is also another explanation for the February dip: the immediate post-Christmas numbers usually demonstrate a slack period after the frenzied activity within the holiday season. January is usually a time when the indices move into negative territory; however the shipping orders just kept right on coming through as economic activity starts to move into higher gear. The February dip can be explained just as well by a delayed slackness creeping into the market as hangover from January.
There is also more reason for optimism from the February numbers too. Compared to February 2010, this year has seen a rise on the month-to-month comparison of 4.2%. In other words, 4.2% more tonnage was hauled in February 201 compared to February 2011. The year-on-year figures demonstrate an overall increase of 7.6%; these numbers are crucially important for the larger carriers, who were particularly hard hit during the recession.
Provided overall trends remain positive, then the decisions to invest for short-term market increases will continue to drive investment in the national carriers, and they are the ones where job creation is most likely at this time. There is an expectation that the US trucking industry is still going to experience a shortage of around 150,000 truck driver positions in 2011 and hiring is being carried out at a frenetic pace within the larger carriers.
The tonnage numbers are good news for the trucking industry, which appears to be more concerned by the rising cost of diesel than it is in finding new business. What happens with gas prices is going to have a knock on effect upon the whole economy, not just the trucking industry, however it is likely that truckers will be the very first to feel the impact of high gas prices which will quickly feed into the rest of the manufacturing and retail sectors.
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