2020 saw major swings in truck tonnage. - Graph: ATA

2020 saw major swings in truck tonnage.

Graph: ATA

Truck tonnage ended 2020 on high note, according to American Trucking Associations, as its seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 7.4% in December after rising 3.2% in November.

In December, the index equaled 120 (2015=100) compared with 111.7 in November. (November’s gain was revised down slightly to 3.2% from ATA’s Dec. 22 press release.)

“The index not only registered the largest monthly gain since June, but it also had the first year-over-year increase since March,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a news release. “Freight continues to be helped by strong consumption, a retail inventory restocking, and robust single-family home construction. With the stimulus checks recently issued and with a strong possibility of more in the near future, I would expect truck freight to continue rising.” 

Compared with a year ago, the seasonally adjusted index rose 2.3%. For all of 2020, compared with the same 12-month period in 2019, tonnage was down 3.3%. 2019 had an annual increase of 3.3%.

Tonnage only being down 3.3% for the year was not bad news in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic slowdown associated with the shelter-in-place orders of last spring.

“Because of the pandemic, 2020 was obviously a very challenging year for the economy overall, and that is reflecting in the tonnage index’s dip from the previous year,” Costello said. “Despite that, truck tonnage clearly outperformed the broader economy, as freight continued to move in the face of a myriad of COVID-related challenges faced by the country.”

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 115.9 in December, 5.4% above the November level (109.9). 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.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s.

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