The American Trucking Associations' advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 2.4 percent in January 2008, after rising an amended 1.5 percent in December 2007.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said January's strength is a good sign. But he stopped short of saying that truck tonnage is on the road to recovery.
"The economy is either in a mild recession or on the brink of one, and we are hearing anecdotal reports that freight volumes slowed in February," he said. "I anticipate that truck tonnage will recover before the general economy, but I am withholding judgment on whether truck tonnage is in a recovery mode until I analyze another month or two of data."
Truck tonnage, which often leads both recessions and recoveries, has rebounded, in some cases, before the overall economy actually started a recession, according to Costello. Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy because it represents nearly 70 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.
ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. The trucking organization recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years. The new seasonal factors resulted in slightly lower truck tonnage volumes for 2007 than previously reported. ATA's revised truck tonnage index fell 1.5 percent in 2007 from the previous year compared with a 1.4 percent drop that was originally reported. December's tonnage level, meanwhile, increased a modest 1.5 percent; down from the previously reported 4.1 percent gain. ATA annually revises the index as part of its calculation for the upcoming year's seasonal factors. ATA also restated the not seasonally adjusted data for several months in 2007 as some carriers amended tonnage levels at year end. The not seasonally adjusted index surged 11.4 percent from December to 113.6.
The latest seasonally adjusted increase marked the third sequential gain, totaling 5.7 percent. The tonnage index stood at 117.3 (2000 = 100) in January, a 26-month high. Tonnage was also up 5.3 percent from a year earlier, which was the largest year-over-year gain since January 2005.
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