Truck Tonnage in December Increases 1.4% Year-Over-Year

Flatbed truck hauling freight
Tonnage in December reached the highest level since March, according to the ATA For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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Truck tonnage in December rose a seasonally adjusted 1.4% compared with the same month in 2020 — the fourth consecutive year-over-year gain and the highest measurement since March, American Trucking Associations announced.

The ATA For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index, released Jan. 18, equaled 114.7 in December, a 1% gain over November.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello noted the index was trending up for most of the second half of last year.



“December’s gain was the fifth straight, totaling 4.4%,” Costello said of the cumulative monthly gains to close 2021. “In December, tonnage reached the highest level since March, but it was still 2.7% below the pre-pandemic high. This is likely due to the fact that ATA’s data is dominated by contract freight.

“Contractor truckload carriers operated fewer trucks in 2021 compared with 2020, and it is difficult to haul significantly more tonnage with fewer trucks. But overall, we have seen a nice trend up that is reflective of a still-growing goods economy.”

For purposes of the index, the year 2015=100.

The December tonnage gains were helped by a strong holiday shopping season. The National Retail Federation on Jan. 14 said retail sales during November and December rose 14.1% over 2020 to $886.7 billion, topping the group’s expectations and setting a record despite challenges from inflation, supply chain disruptions and the pandemic.

The NRF number includes online and other nonstore sales, which were up 11.3% at $218.9 billion.

“Consumers were backed by strong wages and record savings, and began their shopping earlier this year than ever before,” NRF President Matthew Shay said. “NRF expects further growth for 2022, and we will continue to focus on industry challenges presented by COVID-19, the supply chain, labor force issues and persistent inflation. The numbers are clear: 2021 was an undeniably outstanding year for retail sales.”

December’s DAT Truckload Volume Index, also released Jan. 18, was up 18% year-over-year, reflecting strong freight volumes as 2021 came to a close. DAT reported spot and contract rates for freight were up in December.

The national average spot rate for van freight was 54 cents per mile higher than a year ago, up to $3 per mile.

Spot refrigerated rates increased 79 cents year-over-year when measured against December 2020, at $3.47 a mile. The spot reefer rate has set a monthly high for six consecutive months.

The national average rate for flatbed loads was up 59 cents year-over-year to $3.08 a mile.



“While it’s not unusual to see a decline in the number of loads moved from November to December, spot market volume was historically strong last month,” DAT Chief of Analytics Ken Adamo said in a statement. “Truckers experienced unparalleled demand during the holiday season.”

DAT said that as capacity remains tight, rates continue their upward movement.

Meanwhile, the December Logistics Managers Index is reported at 70.1 compared with 66.7 in the 2020 period. However, when measured against November’s 73.4, the index is down 3.3. Still, the index’s authors said overall growth in the logistics industry continues to be strong. With regard to the index, higher than 70 is classified as significant expansion and the index has been above 70 for 11 consecutive months and 14 of the past 16. The LMI is compiled every month by academic and industry professionals from Arizona State University, Colorado State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, the University of Nevada-Reno and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.

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“Considerable stress was put onto supply chains to avoid missed sales during the holiday rush,” the LMI’s authors wrote. “Not every item consumers were looking for was available on shelves or online, but the shortages were significantly milder than the bleak prognostications of a holiday with no toys or Christmas trees that had been predicted earlier in the fall. The month’s report indicates that supply chains are now dealing with the aftermath of this herculean effort. This is likely to continue to strain on supply chain capacity well into the new year and possibly through to 2023.”

They also pointed out that the holiday shopping season was extended on the front end, with some people buying products in September and October, which eased some of the expected problems.


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“By pushing deals out early, retailers were able to both mitigate shortages by smoothing out demand, as well as avoiding some of the potential effects of the omicron variant,” the report said.

The index is a combination of eight unique components that make up the logistics industry, including inventory levels and costs, warehousing capacity, utilization, prices and transportation capacity.

Any reading above 50 indicates that logistics is expanding; a reading below 50 is indicative of industry contraction.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the overall U.S. economy, representing 72.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods, ATA said. In 2020, trucks hauled 10.23 billion tons of freight. Motor carriers collected $732.3 billion, or 80.4% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.