Transportation News, March 2010

Truck Tonnage Index Jumped 3.1 Percent in January

The American Trucking Associations’ advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index jumped 3.1 percent in January, following a revised 1.3 percent increase in December 2009. The latest gain boosted the SA index from 107 (2000=100) in December to 110.4 in January, its highest level since September 2008. The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 99.5 in January, down 3.3 percent from the previous month.

ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.

Compared with January 2009, SA tonnage surged 5.7 percent, which was the best year-over-year reading since January 2005 and the second consecutive increase. For all of 2009, the tonnage index was down 8.7 percent (slightly larger than the previously reported 8.3 percent drop), which was the largest annual decrease since a 12.3 percent plunge in 1982.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that the latest tonnage reading, coupled with anecdotal reports from carriers, indicates that both the industry and the economy are clearly in a recovery mode. “While I don’t expect tonnage to continue growing as robustly as it did in January, the industry is finally moving in the right direction. Although there are still risks that could throw the rebound off track, the likelihood of that happening continues to diminish.”

January spot freight continues upward trend, year-over-year
Freight availability in January rose by 54% on the North American spot market, compared to January 2009, according to the TransCore Freight Index.

Freight volume has been improving since October, on a year-over-year basis, due both to the improving trend in the second half of 2009 as well as the market weakness that extended from Q4 2008 through the first half of 2009.

CSA 2010: How will it affect you?
Starting in July, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will roll out its new Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 program nationwide, heralding a new level of complexity in carriers’ regulatory compliance. CSA 2010 has already been field tested in six states; it is scheduled to be fully implemented by the end of this year.

CSA 2010 continues the FMCSA’s system of inspections at the roadside and in the yard, but scores will be updated monthly, and ratings will incorporate on-highway performance. The program includes significant changes in the measurement of carrier performance data and adds new categories for driver performance, as well. Driver violations will affect the overall rating for the carriers who employ them.

Instead of the four categories that exist today in SAFER, the CSA will group carrier and driver safety performance data into seven categories called BASICs: Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Categories. All seven BASICS may be affected by driver behavior:

1. Unsafe driving
2. Fatigued driving, including Hours of Service (HOS) compliance
3. Driver fitness
4. Controlled substance or alcohol
5. Vehicle maintenance
6. Improper loading of cargo
7. Crash indicators

Based on a carrier’s weighted score within each BASIC, the CSA 2010 measurement system will trigger the Agency to intervene with the carrier, or alert the agency that carrier performance has reached the “unfit” threshold.

At that point, CSA 2010 triggers progressive interventions – from a warning letter to an actual claim notice – to advise the motor carrier or driver that their safety performance requires correction. These steps are meant to improve unsafe behavior early.

As the CSA 2010 system rolls out, fitness determinations will be based on performance data processed through the measurement system, and will not necessarily follow the current FMCSA compliance review process.

What are the implications for carriers? The new safety measurement and rating system is a “game changer,” according to a recent editorial in Transport Topics. The FMCSA’s intent is to streamline carrier safety ratings and make them more accurate and responsive nationwide, but the quality of the underlying data will depend on uniformity in reporting from state to state.

Further, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) submitted lengthy comments on CSA 2010, including the recommendation that data should be normalized according to total miles traveled, rather than the number of power units, as the most important weighting factor.

Consumer Outlays, Manufacturing Start ’10 On Positive Note
By SCOTT STODDARD, INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY Posted 03/01/2010 07:12 PM ET

Manufacturing activity grew for a seventh straight month and consumer spending was strong, but incomes lagged and construction slowed, according to separate reports on Monday that pointed to a gradual economic recovery.

The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index fell 1.9 points from a five-year high to 56.5 last month. Wall Street expected 57.9. But it was well above 50, signaling expansion.
Consumer spending rose more than expected in January, but incomes did not. It’s hard to see how shoppers sustain their recent pace with credit tight and jobs scarce. But ISM’s employment measure rose to a five-year high.

Meanwhile, construction spending sank 0.6%, the third straight decline, as a drop in outlays for offices and other nonresidential projects outweighed a gain in residential investment, the Commerce Department said.
Monday’s mixed data reinforced views that the economy has cooled somewhat in 2010. Some analysts blame bad weather for the recent reports, including big drops in consumer confidence and home sales.

“The weather is going to be a factor in some of the numbers we see near term, but the weather isn’t going to cause a double-dip” recession, said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James.

The Dow rose 0.8%, the S&P 500 1% and the Nasdaq 1.6% on M&A activity and hopes for a resolution to Greece’s debt crisis.

Personal spending rose 0.5% in January, Commerce said. But incomes edged up just 0.1%, the smallest gain in four months. Disposable income fell by 0.4%, pushing the savings rate to its lowest since late 2008. Weak income growth could hinder a recovery that so far has relied on massive fiscal and monetary stimulus.
“We’re probably going to lose some steam as we get into the spring” as the Federal Reserve scales back its emergency lending programs and fiscal stimulus winds down, said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo.

He sees the economy growing at a 2.3% pace in Q1, followed by 2% growth in Q2 and Q3.

Fed chief Ben Bernanke reiterated last week that the central bank will keep rates near 0% for an “extended” period to bolster the fragile economy. He also reaffirmed the Fed’s commitment to end its $1 trillion-plus program to buy mortgage securities this month. Those purchases have helped keep loan rates low and boost the long-suffering housing market.

This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.