Truck tonnage ‘sideways’ but improving in 2010

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 60 views 

A national trucking economist says the freight environment has “gone sideways,” but the industry should see gains in 2010 despite a slowing economy.

According to the ATA, trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing nearly 68% of tonnage carried in 2008 by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 8.8 billion tons of freight in 2009. Motor carriers collected $544.4 billion, or 81.9% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

The American Trucking Associations’ seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 1.5% in July. The latest improvement raised the SA index from 108.3 (2000=100) in June to 110 in July.

Compared with July 2009, tonnage climbed 7.4%, which matched June’s increase and was the eighth consecutive year-over-year gain. Year-to-date, tonnage is up 6.7% compared with the same period in 2009.

But the gains are not enough to alter the 2010 outlook from ATA Chief Economic Bob Costello.

“The economy is slowing and truck freight tonnage has essentially gone sideways since April 2010,” Costello noted in a statement, adding that 2010 should still prove better than 2009. “After accounting for the reduction in supply over the last few years, even small gains in tonnage will have a larger impact on the industry than in past.”

Columbus, Ind.-based ACT Research recently reported that commercial trailer orders for were up 74% in July compared to “a very weak” July 2009. However, the trailer sales were down 9% compared to June 2010. The Aug. 24 report noted that sales of dry van trailers, the largest part of the trailer market, were up 134% compared to July 2009.

"While the decline from June to July may appear disappointing, the overall direction of the commercial trailer sector continues to improve," Kenny Vieth, partner and senior analyst with ACT Research, said in the statement. "However, it should also be noted that these gains are coming off a very weak 2009 and, like the commercial truck sector, net orders have yet to reach normal replacement levels."

The trucking sector is important to the Arkansas economy. Arkansas and Nebraska are tops in the country in in terms of percentage of total state employment being in the trucking sector, according to the ATA trends. In Arkansas, 3.7% of all people employed in the private sector worked for a trucking company, with 3.6% for Nebraska. California and Texas have the most people working in the trucking industry in terms of total numbers.