U.S. truckers hauled less freight November and trucking companies saw higher driver turnover in the third quarter, according to separate reports from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), released this month.
Truck tonnage fell 3.5% sequentially in November and was down 2.1% compared to the year-ago period, according to ATA's monthly advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index, released December 23. The year-over-year decline was the first in more than two years and the largest drop since February 2017.
The index is up 3.3% year-to-date, the Arlington, Va.-based trade association also said.
"It's tough to sugar coat November's reading," ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement announcing the figures. "It was the third decrease in the last four months, and the index is down 7.2% since July. Additionally, November was the first month to see a year-over-year drop in the index since April 2017. While disappointing, it fits with the expected soft gross domestic product reading expected in the fourth quarter and reports of a soft fall freight season."
ATA's monthly tonnage index is based on member surveys, and the data is dominated by contract freight; the advance report contains preliminary figures and is subject to change in the final report, issued around the fifth day of each month.
Separately, ATA reported an increase in driver turnover at both large and small fleets in the third quarter, despite softer demand for freight. The turnover rate at large truckload fleets—those with more than $30 million in annual revenue—jumped nine points to an annualized rate of 96%, the largest quarterly increase since the second quarter of 2016 and the index's highest reading since the second quarter of 2018, the association said. The churn rate at smaller carriers also rose, ticking up six points to 73%.
"Counterintuitively, we saw turnover rise even as the freight demand was relatively soft," Costello said. "While turnover rose at both small and large carriers, the reasons were quite different. Large carriers reduced the number of drivers they employed, in keeping with lackluster freight levels, but smaller carriers added to their driver pools, increasing their number of drivers by 1.9%."
He also said: "During the first two quarters of the year, larger carriers added drivers, but in the third quarter they started right-sizing their fleets. Conversely, smaller companies increased their driver pool in the third quarter for the first time this year."
Turnover at less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers dropped four points to an annualized rate of 9%, its lowest level since the final quarter of 2017, according to ATA.