CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
Finance
December 08, 2019
Forward Thinking

Freight carried by for-hire transportation industry fell steeply in September, feds say

Comment
Index posts largest one-month plunge since January 2012, amid array of other sour economic indicators, Department of Transportation says.

Amid a broad decline in the government's economic indicators, the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry fell 2.5% in September after reaching an all-time high in August, posting its largest one-month plunge since January 2012, according to federal statistics released today.

The number also declined when compared to the same month a year earlier, as the Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) slumped 0.1% from September 2018 to September 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). 

That was a stark change from the index' previous trendline, which had jumped 7.2% from September 2017 to September 2018. By the numbers, the index was 136.6 in September, and 140.1 in August.

The Freight TSI's September decrease affected nearly every transportation mode, driven by significant declines in water, rail carloads, trucking, pipeline, and air freight, while rail intermodal increased modestly, BTS said.

In context of the greater economy, the Freight TSI joined several other major indicators that posted similar drops, according to BTS:

  • the Federal Reserve Board's Industrial Production Index declined 0.4% in September, reflecting decreases in mining and manufacturing and an increase in utilities,
  • housing starts declined by 9.4%, and
  • the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing index decreased 1.3 points to 47.8, indicating contraction in manufacturing 

BTS compiles the Freight TSI by measuring month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, which are combined into one index. The index measures the output of the for-hire freight transportation industry and consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. However, the index does not include international or coastal waterborne movements, private trucking, courier services, or the U.S. Postal Service.

According to BTS, research has shown a clear relationship between economic cycles and the Freight TSI. The index can be examined together with other economic indicators to produce a better understanding of the current and future course of the economy, including changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the government said.

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