Still, the gain over the past two months, totaling 4.8 percent, did not even erase the 7.8 percent contraction in December 2008. In February, the seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled just 106.5 (2000 = 100), which is still extremely low, ATA warns. Also in February, the fleets reported lower volumes than in January, as the not seasonally adjusted index fell another 2 percent last month on top of January's 4.4 percent drop. In February, the not seasonally adjusted index equaled 95.3. Compared with February 2008, tonnage contracted 9.2 percent, which was the third-worst year-over-year decrease of the current cycle.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said he is very cautious about reading too much into February's seasonally adjusted month-to-month improvement. "As I said last month, tonnage will not fall every month on a seasonally adjusted basis, and just because it rose again in February doesn't mean the economy is on the mend," Costello said. "Tonnage plunged again on a year-over-year basis, which highlights the current weakness in the freight environment." Costello also noted that fleets are still witnessing a tough environment and there is nothing that suggests freight volumes are about to embark on a sustained recovery.
ATA noted on the impact of trucking company failures on the index: "Each month, ATA asks its membership the amount of tonnage each carrier hauled, including all types of freight. The indexes are calculated based on those responses. The sample includes an array of trucking companies, ranging from small fleets to multi-billion dollar carriers. When a company in the sample fails, we include its final month of operation and zero it out for the following month. This assumes the remaining carriers pick up that freight. As a result, it is close to a net wash and does not end up in a false increase. Nevertheless, some carriers are picking up freight from failures, and it may have boosted the index. Due to our correction mentioned above, however, it should be limited," the association said.