ATA Truck Tonnage Index rose 1.7% in November

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The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 1.7 percent in November, marking the first month-to-month improvement since June 2008. The index contracted a total of 6.3 percent from June through October. In November, the seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled 110.7; in October, the index was at the lowest level in five years.

Despite the increase in the seasonally adjusted measure, the freight outlook remains bleak. Specifically, the nonseasonally adjusted index, which measures the change in actual tonnage volumes reported by the fleets before any seasonal adjustments, fell 15.4 percent to 101.3 in November. The seasonally adjusted index declined 1.8 percent compared with November 2007, which was the second straight year-over-year decrease.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello cautioned against misinterpreting the slight increase in freight tonnage as indicative of the beginnings of an economic turnaround. Freight volumes remain weak, he said.

“Don’t let November’s increase in the seasonally adjusted index fool you,” said Costello. “Freight volumes were down substantially before any seasonality is taken out of the data.” Tonnage also was off from year-over levels, showing the weakness in freight, said Costello, who expects freight to weaken further as the economy contracts through the first half of 2009.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons and key financial indicators. The baseline year is 2000.