American truckers hauled less cargo in July than they did in June as the country continues to recover from coronavirus shutdowns in jagged stops and starts, according to figures released today by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
The ATA’s advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 5.1% in July after surging 8.9% in June. In July, the index equaled 109.6, compared with 115.5 in June, based on a calibration where it was set at 100 for 2015.
The results reveal how some sectors of the economy are reopening faster than others from closures intended to slow the spread of Covid-19, the organization said.
“After a very strong June, for-hire contract freight tonnage, which dominates ATA’s index, slipped in July for a couple of reasons,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a release. “It is likely that tonnage was down because many fleets didn’t have the capacity to take advantage of stronger retail freight volumes. Therefore, much of that overflow freight moved to the spot market, which did increase in July. Other ATA data shows that for-hire truckload fleets are operating 3% fewer trucks this summer than a year earlier, so it can be difficult to take on a significant amount of additional freight. Also, while retail volumes have snapped back strongly, manufacturing output and international trade freight is lagging well behind.”
Despite July’s decline, the index remained 3.3% above its recent low in May. But compared with July 2019, the SA index contracted 8.3%, the fourth straight year-over-year decline. The ATA says trucking is a crucial barometer of the U.S. economy because it represents 72.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.84 billion tons of freight in 2019 and collected $791.7 billion, or 80.4% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.
The figures also echoed a similar trend in rail freight, where the Association of American Railroads reported in its “Weekly Rail Traffic Report” that intermodal shipments by U.S. rail for the week ending Aug. 8 reached 277,054, their highest level since December 2019 and 30% more than the 2020 low in April. “Rail traffic, like the overall economy, is generally trending in the right direction, but progress is slow; there’s a long way to go before it’s back to normal; and both week-to-week improvements and setbacks in individual commodities are to be expected,” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray said in a release.
After a very strong June, there are a couple of factors behind July's slip in for-hire contract freight. #tonnage— American Trucking (@TRUCKINGdotORG) August 18, 2020