Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 72.5% of tonnage carried by all...

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 72.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation.

Source: ATA

The sluggish performance of the American Trucking Associations’ tonnage index reflects capacity constraints in the contract market, according to the association.

ATA’s advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index was unchanged in February after increasing 0.4% in January. In February, the index equaled 115.3 (2015=100) the same as January.

“February was the first month that the index didn’t increase since July,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “Despite a string of gains, the index is still off 1.8% from March 2020. The index is also off 4.2% from the all-time high in August 2019.”

It is important to note that ATA’s data is dominated by contract freight, not spot market freight.

“Demand for trucking freight services remains strong, but for-hire contract carriers are capacity constrained due to the driver and equipment markets,” Costello explained. “The spot market has been surging as these carriers can’t haul all of the freight they are asked to move. So the fact that the tonnage index hasn’t fully recovered is a supply problem, not a lack of demand.”

Other ATA data shows that for-hire carriers are operating around 7% fewer trucks, both company and independent contractor equipment, than prior to the pandemic.

January’s increase was revised down slightly from ATA’s Feb. 22 press release.

Compared with February 2021, the seasonally adjusted index increased 2.4%, which was the sixth straight year-over-year gain and the largest over that period. In January, the index was up 0.9% from a year earlier. In 2022, year-to-date and compared with same period in 2021, tonnage was up 1.7%.

The not-seasonally-adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 104.3 in February, 4.3% below the January level (109).

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 fifth day of each month.

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