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March 22, 2016 12:01 PM, EDT
Truck Tonnage in February Hits Record, Helped by Catch-up Freight from January
Cobalt123/Flickr

Truck tonnage jumped 8.6% in February, posting an all-time record that was helped by freight that moved later due to January storms, American Trucking Associations reported.

While the trade federation's seasonally adjusted for-hire index stood at 144, besting the previous high of 134.7 set in November and December, ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said, “I caution everyone not to read too much into it.”

“The strength was mainly due to a weaker-than-average January, including bad winter storms, thus there was some catch-up going on in February,” said Costello, who consistently cautions that single-month tonnage readings need to be placed in context. “If March is strong, then I’ll get more excited.”

Typically, tonnage declines sharply in February, compared with the month before. The 7.2% gain in 2016 compares with sequential drop-offs of 5.4% to 6.7% over the past three years. As a result, a small increase in tonnage produced the large seasonally adjusted increase, ATA reported.

The year-over-year gain was the largest in more than two years. It also marked the largest sequential gain in more than three years.

The not seasonally adjusted index, measuring freight actually hauled, also was strong, rising an identical 8.2% over February of last year. Sequentially, the increase excluding seasonal adjustment was 0.4%.

Costello’s analysis included a frequent comment voiced by other economists.

“I’m still concerned about the elevated inventories throughout the supply chain,” he said. “Last week, the Census Bureau reported that relative to sales, inventories rose again in January, which is troubling. We need those inventories reduced before trucking can count on more consistent, better freight volumes.”

February’s result produced a 4.8% year-over-year average increase for the first two months of 2016.

ATA revised January 2016 tonnage to a 0.3% decline.