- The American Trucking Associations' For-Hire Tonnage Index rose 1.8% in February from the previous month, after falling 0.3% in January compared to December 2019, signaling greater freight volumes and higher consumer demand.
- The index rose 2.6% compared to February 2019, and was preceded by a 0.4% year-over-year gain in January, according to ATA.
- Bob Costello, ATA chief economist, said trucking was in a good place before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Costello said he expects trucking volumes will be positive for consumer items, such as food and home supplies, before the nation sees a slowdown as the economy contracts in the second quarter, which begins April 1.
Trucking began February shaking off some problems from 2019, such as overcapacity and slower consumer demand.
There were solid housing starts, high levels of retail sales and a modest improvement in manufacturing activity, all pushing up freight volumes, Costello wrote in his monthly report. Then a new reality struck the U.S., ushered in by the novel coronavirus.
The tonnage numbers are bound to soon drop, Costello said, no matter the demand for food, medical supplies and cleaning staples. A number of major manufacturers are temporarily shutting down, from Boeing to Paccar, meaning fleets that carry parts will get hit hard in the short-term. It could mean trouble for fleets whose regular shipments are not diversified, or whose financial performance was already on the bubble.
An example of what to expect is Celadon, once one of the largest for-hire fleets in the nation and the 11th largest dedicated truckload carrier, according to Transport Topics. Even though it had diverse clients such as Walmart, MillerCoors and Conagra, Celadon went bankrupt last year after a UAW strike at GM that lasted from Sept. 14 to Oct. 26. In that time, GM suppliers laid off thousands.