The American Trucking Associations said today that its monthly seasonally adjusted truck tonnage index fell sequentially in April by 2.5 percent, to 134 from 137.6, a decline whose magnitude was surprising, given relatively upbeat comments from truckers about the levels of freight activity.
The trade group's seasonally adjusted index fell in March by 1.1 percent sequentially, according to ATA data. In March, the index rose 0.6 percent on a year-over-year basis. Compared with the same four months in 2016, the index is off 0.3 percent, ATA said. For all of 2016, tonnage was up 2.5 percent.
The non-seasonally adjusted index, which represents tonnage hauled before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 132.6 in April, which was 7.8 percent below the previous month's level of 143.8, ATA said.
Bob Costello, ATA's chief economist, said in a statement that he was less surprised by the April decline than he was by the size of the drop. Costello said a substantial fall-off in housing starts last month could have affected tonnage levels, since residential construction activity generates more heavy freight.
Costello said he still expects moderate growth the rest of the year, which will mirror the U.S. economy's slow but reasonably steady growth trajectory.
Few observers have been inspired by motor freight activity so far this year. Soft demand has contributed to excess capacity, which is keeping a lid on freight rates and providing leverage to shippers in contract negotiations.