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ATA Truck Tonnage Index climbs 1.7% in March 2011

The American Trucking Associations’ advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 1.7% in March 2011 after falling a revised 2.7% in February. The latest gain put the SA index at 115.4 (2000=100) in March, which was the highest level since January 2011 (116.6). In February, the index equaled 113.5.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 123.3 in March, up 20.7% from the previous month.

Compared with March 2010, SA tonnage climbed 6.3%, which was higher than February’s 4.4% year-over-year gain, but below the 7.6% jump in January. For the first quarter of 2011, tonnage rose 3.8% from the previous quarter and 6.1% from the first quarter 2010.

“Despite my concern that higher energy costs are going to begin cutting into consumer spending, tonnage levels were pretty good in March and the first quarter of the year,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist and vice-president. “While I still think the industry will continue to grow and recover from the weak freight environment we’ve seen in recent years, the rapid spike in fuel prices will slow that growth.”

Costello also noted that as long as US manufacturing activity remains strong, truck tonnage will benefit.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the US economy, representing 68% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 8.8 billion tons of freight in 2009. Motor carriers collected $544.4 billion, or 81.9% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

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