Arkansas Transportation Report: National freight sector remains volatile

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 74 views 

Editor’s note: The Arkansas Transportation Report is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by the Arkansas Trucking Association and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Other transportation industry related stories can be found on the Arkansas Transportation Report landing page.
High inventory levels among retailers and manufacturers continue to be a concern for freight sector economists, but truck tonnage was up almost 6% in August.

August shipments were down 1.1%, and freight expenditures fell 6.3% compared to the same period in 2015, according to the Cass Freight Index. The American Trucking Associations’ For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 5.9% in August, following a 0.2% decline in July. Year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2015, tonnage was up 3.5% at the end of August.

Rosalyn Wilson, a supply chain expert and senior business analyst with Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons, who provides economic analysis for the Cass Freight Index, said weakness in many economic sectors keeps shipments and expenditures on the decline.

“August’s Cass Freight Index continued to signal that overall shipment volumes (and pricing) are persistently weak, with increased levels of volatility as all levels of the supply chain (manufacturing, wholesale, retail) continue to try and work down inventory levels,” Wilson noted in her report.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said the broad inventory “overhang” makes it difficult to gauge trucking sector trends.

Traffic on the Arkansas River for the first eight months of 2016 totaled 7.675 million tons, up 21% compared to 2015, but a decline in iron and steel shipments pushed August tonnage down almost 25%.

August saw 921,119 tons shipped on the river, down 24.5% compared to August 2015, according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Thanks to unusual amounts of rainfall in 2015, tonnage on the Arkansas River was down 15% compared to 2014, and fell below 10 million tons for the first time in at least four years. Information from the U.S. Corps of Engineers shows that 9.962 million tons were shipped in 2015. Tonnage totaled 11.719 million tons in 2014, down from the 12.139 million in 2013 but better than the 11.687 million in 2012 and the 10.6 million in 2011.

In the January-August period, inbound tonnage totaled 3.044 million tons, down 1% compared to the same period in 2015. Outbound tonnage on the Arkansas River was 2.699 million tons, up 45%, and internal tonnage (tons shipped between ports on the river) totaled 1.931 million tons, up 36%.

Following are other figures in the report.
• For the 38 weeks of 2016 ended Sept. 24, the Association of American Railroads reported that combined railcar and intermodal traffic was 19.271 million units, down 7% compared to the same period in 2015.

• Traffic at Arkansas’ commercial airports is not keeping pace with the almost 5% enplanement gains seen nationwide.

• U.S. Department of Transportation figures show U.S. June enplanements – the most recent federal data available – totaled 74.792 million, up 4.29% compared to June 2015. In the 12-months ended in June, U.S. enplanements were 819.846 million, up 4.96% compared to the July 2014-June 2015 period.

Link here for a PDF of the September 2016 Arkansas Transportation Report.