Key Trucking Industry Measure Dropped Steeply in March

 key measure of freight carried by commercial trucks fell sharply in March.

The American Trucking Associations’ For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 4.5 percent in March. The contraction follows February’s 7.2 percent increase, which was an all-time high for the index.

After the February surge, the March dip wasn’t a surprise, ATA analysts said.

“As expected, tonnage came back to earth in March from the jump in February,” said Bob Costello, the trade group’s chief economist. “These things tend to correct, and March took back more than half of the surprisingly large gain in February.”

The shipping outlook remains “mixed,” he said.

The housing industry and strong consumer spending are creating trucking demand while weakness in oil drilling and exploration and sluggish factory output are industry drags, Costello said.

Despite the drop, the seasonally adjusted index rose 2.2 percent from March of 2015, while tonnage increased 3.9 percent compared with the same period in 2015.

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The performance of the trucking industry, which represents 68.8 percent of tonnage by all modes of domestic freight transportation, is typically an indication of the strength of the U.S. economy. But Costello said the numbers from March don’t necessarily reflect current commercial trends.

“Freight volumes are softer than the overall economy because of the current inventory overhang throughout the supply chain,” Costello said.

Seth Sparks