The American Trucking Associations (ATA) said today that its seasonally adjusted for-hire tonnage index fell 1.4 percent in January from December's all-time high, adversely affected by inclement winter weather and by elevated inventory levels that discouraged ordering and shipping.
The index came in at 132.8, down from 134.7 in December. The December index was unchanged from November's levels.
Compared with January 2015, the index showed no change. December 2015 tonnage rose 0.8 percent from December 2014 levels, the trade group said.
For 2015, tonnage rose 2.6 percent from 2014 levels, ATA said. That correlates closely to the Commerce Department's 2015 estimates of 2.4-percent GDP growth. Final full-year GDP figures will be released on Monday. Trucking moves about 69 percent of domestic freight, according to ATA data.
In a statement, Bob Costello, the group's chief economist, said the magnitude of the sequential drop in January reflects more than the impact of bad weather. Inventory levels, when measured as a ratio of final sales, continue to remain too high, Costello said. As a result, manufacturers and retailers are pulling from existing stock to fill orders and stock shelves, rather than placing new orders that would trigger a shipping transaction, he said.
"The sooner the supply chain cleans out the excess stocks, the better for trucking," Costello said.
The inventory-to-sales ratio at the end of December stood at 1.39, compared to 1.33 in December 2014, the Commerce Department reported on Feb. 12. The elevated ratio is partly due to retailers holding higher-than-normal inventories in the early part of 2015 out of concern that an escalating dispute between waterfront labor and management would shut down West Coast ports and prevent goods from entering U.S. commerce.