Truck Tonnage Falls 5.8% in September, Underlying Soft Market


U.S. truck tonnage fell 5.8% in September, reversing the positive trend in August and marking the first year-over-year decline in the American Trucking Associations index since October 2015.

The Oct. 18 report from ATA said the seasonally adjusted index level for the month was 132.7, down from 140.8 in August and the all-high record of 144 in February. The index compares business activity to a base level of 100 in the year 2000.

The seasonally adjusted tonnage index fell 0.7% from the September 2015 reading. In August, the year-over-year increase was 5.2%. Through September, however, tonnage remained up 3%, from 2015, according to the report.

“Adjusting for the larger ups and downs this year, as well as talking with many fleets, I currently see a softer than normal freight environment, which is likely to continue until the inventory correction is complete,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “Looking ahead, the slow growth economic environment does not suggest that significantly stronger truck tonnage numbers are in the near term, either.”

Costello also echoed remarks he made in September that it’s difficult to discern any clear trend in truck tonnage currently.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets, equaled 136.4 in September, or 5.1% below the August number of 143.8.

Two other freight reports released Oct. 18 also showed deterioration.

The Cass Freight Index found shipments were down 3.1% and expenditures 3.8% year-over-year. That index includes shipments and expenditures of all domestic freight modes.

“The Cass Freight Index shipments data in September disappointed, providing hindsight that August only gave us ‘false hope.’ September data is once again signaling that overall shipment volumes [and pricing] continued to be weak in most modes, with increased levels of volatility as all levels of the supply chain,” the Freight Index report found.

A separate linehaul index published by Cass and Avondale Partners measures fluctuations in per-mile truckload rates, factoring out fuel surcharges. The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index declined 3.5% in September, compared with September 2015, which is the seventh consecutive month when the index declined compared with last year.