The choppy recovery theory for the U.S. trucking industry gained more credence with Friday’s (Oct. 23) report from the American Trucking Associations’ that showed a 0.3% dip in the September truck tonnage index.
The September declines comes after increasing 2.1% in July and August. The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 107.9 in September, up 2% from August.
Compared with September 2008, seasonally-adjusted tonnage fell 7.3%, which was the best year-over-year showing since November 2008. In August, the index was down 7.5% from a year earlier.
“The trucking industry should not be alarmed by the very small decrease in September,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello, said in a statement, noting that the latest reading fits with the premise that a national economic recovery will be moderate and choppy. “We took two steps forward in July and August and this was a miniscule step backward.”
Costello said the trucking industry should be prepared for ups and downs in the months ahead, but the general trend should be modest improvement.
“Between most economic indicators recovering and less of an overhang in inventories, I’m confident that the industry is still on the road to recovery,” he said.
Executives with the two trucking companies based in the Fort Smith/Van Buren region are likely hopeful Costello’s confidence converts to reality.
Van Buren-based USA Truck Inc. announced Oct. 22 a net loss of $1.6 million in the third quarter, compared to a gain of $2.4 million in the second quarter. Total revenue for the quarter was $96.171 million, down 34.1% from the same period in 2008.
Arkansas Best Corp. announced Oct. 21 a third quarter 2009 net loss of $5.6 million, compared to net income of $15.4 million in the third quarter of 2008. The Fort Smith-based transportation holding company has lost $50.17 million in the past four quarters.
Both companies said the national freight recession is largely to blame for the poor financial figures.
“We are now entering the fourth year of a severe freight decline that is unprecedented in our company’s history. It is unclear when business levels will benefit from a significant improvement in our nation’s economy,” Robert A. Davidson, Arkansas Best president and CEO, said in a statement.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing nearly 69% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods, according to the ATA.