Freight Transportation Services Index, May 2012 - May 2017. Graphic: U.S. DOT

Freight Transportation Services Index, May 2012 - May 2017. Graphic: U.S. DOT

 The level of freight moved by the nation’s for-hire transporters rebounded in May following a two-month decline, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

Its Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) rose 2.2% to a reading of 126.8 in May from April, breaking the previous record high of 126 set in February. It is also 33.9% above the April 2009 low during the most recent economic recession.

The gain from April to May was the largest month-to-month increase since the index rose 2.9% from November to December 2011.

The April index was revised upward to 124.1 from 122.8 in last month’s release as a result of more actual air freight ton-miles than forecast. Monthly numbers for January through March also were revised up slightly.

When May is compared to the same time a year ago the index increased 4.2%, the largest year-over-year rise since a 5.9% jump from January 2014 to January 2015.

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

The May increase in the Freight TSI was broad based with gains in most modes, especially water and pipeline, while air freight and trucking were stable, according to the department. The increase took place despite mixed performance in economic indicators in May.

Employment and personal income both grew in May, and the Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index showed positive and accelerating growth.  However, housing starts declined, and the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production index was unchanged, with a decline in manufacturing offset by increases in mining and utility output.

The Freight TSI all-time high in May was the second time in four months but only the third time overall that the gauge has exceeded 125. An index level of more than 125 indicates that the magnitude of freight transportation provided by the for-hire transportation industry was 25% higher than freight shipments in the base year of 2000.

For-hire freight shipments are up 12.5% in the five years from May 2012 and are up 15% in the 10 years from May 2007.