American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 7.4% in December after rising 3.2% in November. In December, the index equaled 120 (2015=100) compared with 111.7 in November.

“Tonnage ended last year on a high note,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “The index not only registered the largest monthly gain since June, but it also had the first year-over-year increase since March. Freight continues to be helped by strong consumption, a retail inventory restocking, and robust single-family home construction. With the stimulus checks recently issued and with a strong possibility of more in the near future, I would expect truck freight to continue rising.”

November’s gain was revised down slightly to 3.2% from our December 22 press release.

Compared with December 2019, the SA index rose 2.3%. For all of 2020, compared with the same 12-month period in 2019, tonnage was down 3.3%. 2019 had an annual increase of 3.3%.

“Because of the pandemic, 2020 was obviously a very challenging year for the economy overall, and that is reflecting in the tonnage index’s dip from the previous year,” Costello said. “Despite that, truck tonnage clearly outperformed the broader economy as freight continued to move in the face of a myriad of COVID-related challenges faced by the country.”

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 115.9 in December, 5.4% above the November level (109.9). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015. ATA’s For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index is dominated by contract freight as opposed to spot market freight.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 72.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.84 billion tons of freight in 2019. Motor carriers collected $791.7 billion, or 80.4% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around the 5th day of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.