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For-Hire Freight Movements See Biggest Drop in Nearly a Year

January 14, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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Freight Transportation Services Index, November 2010 - November 2015. Graphic: U.S. DOT
Freight Transportation Services Index, November 2010 - November 2015. Graphic: U.S. DOT

The amount of freight moved by the nation’s for-hire transportation sector moved lower in a government index that it says is an indicator of economic cycles.

The U.S. Transportation Department’s Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) fell 1% in November from October to 122.3, following a one-month rise. It was the largest drop since January 2014.

Despite the decline, this gauge is just 1.1% below the all-time high level of 123.7 in November 2014 and 29.1% above the April 2009 low during the “Great Recession.” TSI records go back to 2000.

The October index was also revised upward to 123.5 from 123.2.

The November 2015 level is 1.1% lower than the same time a year ago.

The Freight TSI measures month-to-month changes in freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, which are combined into one index. It consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight.

The November drop was broad-based across all freight modes, according to the department, driven by weakness in the mining, including oil and gas well drilling and servicing, and manufacturing sectors of the economy.

This follows separate reports released late last year showing declining manufacturing activity during November.

Other reports out this week seem to indicate that for-hire freight movements will not show an increase once December’s figures are issued, with the Cass Freight Index of shipments and freight spending posting declines last month from both November and a year earlier.

Since February 2015, the Freight TSI has not had two consecutive months of growth or declines, but remains high compared to earlier years. Freight shipments are up 13.9% in the five years from the post-recession level of November 2010 and are up 7.7% in the 10 years from November 2005.

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