March 2021 Trucking Is Either Outstanding Or Contracting

Headline data for the CASS Freight Index show that truck volumes show volumes improved month-over-month - and the year-over-year growth is now in double digits. In the opposite corner, the American Trucking Association (ATA) index declined and is in contraction year-over-year. 

Analyst Opinion of Truck Transport

The CASS index is inclusive of rail, truck, and air shipments. The ATA truck index is inclusive of only trucking industry member movements (ATA's tonnage data is dominated by contract freight).

I put a heavier weight on the CASS index year-over-year which is more consistent with rail and ocean freight.

Econintersect tries to validate truck data across data sources. It appears this month that the truck employment rate of growth continues to improve. Please note using BLS employment data in real-time is risky, as their data is normally backward adjusted (sometimes significantly). Additionally, Econintersect believes that the BLS is not capturing all truck employment.

ATA Trucking

American Trucking Associations' advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 5.1% in March after falling 2.3% in February. In March, the index equaled 106.8 (2015=100) compared with 112.5 in February.

Said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello:

March's drop comes as somewhat of a surprise. I certainly heard from many fleets that the end-of-quarter rush was good, but early March was soft. Truck freight volumes were also negatively impacted by supply chain issues from the lack of microchips and other inputs. That said, this surprise to the downside does not change my positive outlook going forward.

Household spending power is strong and I believe there is plenty of pent-up demand for consumer spending. Single-family home construction and stronger manufacturing output, even with the supply chain issues, will help support tonnage through this year and beyond.

Compared with March 2020, the SA index fell 9.5%, which was preceded by a 3.8% year-over-year decline in February.

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