On a seasonally adjusted basis, the tonnage index improved to 114.6 (2000 = 100) in March from 113.3 the previous month. The index grew 1.6 percent compared with a year earlier, marking the first year-over-year increase since June 2006 and the largest gain since December 2005. The not seasonally adjusted index jumped 15.7 percent from February to 117.1.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said the year-over-year improvement was a positive sign, but that the industry was not out of the woods just yet. "The latest increases, both monthly and year-over-year, bode well for the industry, although the year-over-year changes could still fall back into negative territory during some future months. Many motor carriers are telling us anecdotally that April has been filled with starts and stops."
Costello projects the industry will see a gradual improvement in volumes as the year progresses due to an inventory correction, which should boost truck volumes, and a better economic outlook for 2008.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy because it represents nearly 70 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.
Trucks hauled 10.7 billion tons of freight in 2005. Motor carriers collected $623 billion, or 84.3 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.
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 10th day of the month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.