The American Trucking Associations (ATA) said today that its "seasonally adjusted" truck tonnage index in February fell 0.1 percent from January's totals, and declined 2.8 percent from record levels set in February 2016.
The February data came after January's index rose 2.9 percent from December 2016 levels, ATA said. Year to date, the index is off 0.1 percent from the same two-month period last year, the trucking trade group said.
The "not seasonally adjusted" index, which represents tonnage hauled by fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 125.5 in February, which was 4.6 percent below January levels.
Bob Costello, ATA's chief economist, said last month's numbers don't signal a change in the group's forecast for a turnaround year in 2017. The February index faced difficult comparisons with "abnormally strong" February 2016 data, Costello said in a statement.
Costello said the industry is benefitting from lower inventory levels, stronger manufacturing activity, solid housing starts, good consumer spending, and an increase in the oil-rig count—all of which are drivers of stronger demand and increased freight volumes.
Late yesterday, auditing and payment services firm Cass Information Systems Inc. reported that its monthly shipment index rose in February by more than 1 percent over February 2016 levels and 7 percent sequentially. Freight spending last month rose 3.2 percent over the same period last year and increased 5.1 percent sequentially, according to the index.
The gains in February, normally a weak month for freight, are another indication that the freight recession that began in 2015 should be consigned to the history books, according to Donald Broughton, an analyst for investment firm Avondale Partners LLC and author of the report accompanying the index.
Broughton noted that the February shipment index, which came in at 1.079, was comparable to the readings recorded in February 2013 and 2014, though below that of the most recent near-term peak hit in February 2015, a month before the current downturn began. The all-time peak for February was reached in 2005, at slightly more than 1.32.
The index covers activity in all North American freight modes, and is based on data from the approximately $20 billion in freight bills Cass audits and pays each year.