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American Trucking Associations’ truck tonnage index plunged 12.2% in April, largest in 26 years

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American Trucking Associations’ truck tonnage index plunged 12.2% in April, largest in 26 years

May 25, 2020 - 13:57
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ARLINGTON, VA, May 19, 2020 (Press Release) -American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index contracted 12.2% in April after increasing 0.4% in March. In April, the index equaled 104.9 (2015=100) compared with 119.5 in March.

“April’s monthly decline was the largest in 26 years when there was a labor strike in April 1994,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “Considering that April factory output and retail sales plummeted, the large drop in truck freight is not surprising. However, not all fleets saw large declines in April. Those hauling food for grocery stores and those involved in the on-line retail supply chain outperformed most other fleets. Some fleets witnessed very large declines in freight last month.”  

March’s gain was revised down to 0.4% from the 1.2% increase reported in our April 21 press release.

“These historic declines show just how much trucking was impacted by our national response to the COVID-19 pandemic” Costello said. “As the nation starts taking small steps toward reopening, we should see some modest improvements in the freight market, but the size of April’s decline gives us an idea of how long the road back may be.”

Compared with April 2019, the SA index contracted 11.3%, the largest year-over-year decline since early 2009. This drop was preceded by a 3.5% year-over-year gain in March. Year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2019, tonnage is down 1.3%.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 104.6 in April, 12.8% below the March level (120). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015. 

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 71.4% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.49 billion tons of freight in 2018. Motor carriers collected $796.7 billion, or 80.3% of total revenue earned by all transport modes. 

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around the 5th day of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.