The American Trucking Associations' advance seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index dropped 2.3% in May after decreasing a revised 0.6% in April.
April's drop was slightly less than the 0.7% ATA reported on May 25. The latest drop put the SA index at 112.3 (2000=100) in May, down from the April level of 114.9.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 115.9 in May, which was 2% above the previous month.

Compared with May 2010, SA tonnage climbed 2.7%, although this was the smallest year-over-year gain since February 2010. In April, the tonnage index was 4.8% above a year earlier.

"Truck tonnage over the last four months shows that the economy definitely hit a soft patch this spring," ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. "With our index falling in three of the last four months totaling 3.7%, it is clear why there is some renewed anxiety over the economic recovery."

However, Costello added that he is cautiously optimistic that freight volumes will improve in the second half of the year along with economic activity.

"With oil prices falling and some of the Japan-related auto supply problems ending, I believe this was a soft patch and not a slide back into recession, and we should see better, but not great, economic activity in the months ahead," he said.

According to Peter Nesvold, managing director at Jefferies, the May tonnage report was mixed, but weaker than expected. He continues to forecast tonnage growth of +3% to +5% in 2011.

As far as pricing, dry van pricing tracks at the high-end of Nesvold's expectations (+10.5% YoY in April), although the short-haul segment remained negative. Short-haul pricing dropped 4.4% YoY in April. Meanwhile, dry van loads fell 6.7% YoY in April. Jefferies believes that it will be important for volumes and, to a lesser extent, pricing to improve as the year progresses in order to meet investor expectations.