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Economic Indicator: Freight Shipments Unchanged in May from April

July 16, 2012, 07:23 AM
Filed Under: Transportation

The amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry was unchanged in May from April, after a one-month rise, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) released today. The May 2012 index level (109.6) was 16.3 percent above the April 2009 low during the recession.

BTS, a part of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, reported that the level of freight shipments in May measured by the Freight TSI, 109.6, declined 3.8 percent from the level of December 2011 (114.0), which was the all-time high since 1990 when BTS’ TSI records began (Table 2A). See historical TSI data.
The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in freight shipments by mode of transportation in ton-miles, which are then 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.
Analysis: The Freight TSI has shown little change since dropping in January from its December peak. The recent plateauing of the freight TSI since January appears to reflect slowing growth in the general economy. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth slowed to 1.9 percent in first quarter of 2012, from 3.0 percent in fourth quarter of 2011, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Changes in employment and personal income suggest that the slower growth continued in May, which is consistent with the lack of change in the freight TSI.   Personal income grew by only 0.2 percent in May and April after higher growth in the previous four months, according to BEA, and total nonfarm employment grew by only 80,000 jobs in May for a second quarter monthly average of 75,000 new jobs, down from a monthly average of 226,000 new jobs in the first quarter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trend: Freight shipments in May 2012 (109.6) were at the fifth highest monthly level since the early recession month of July 2008 despite the 3.8 percent decline from its peak in December 2011 (114.0), which was the highest level in the 22-year history of the Freight TSI series. After dipping to a recent low in April 2009 (94.3) during the recession, freight shipments increased in 24 of the last 37 months, rising 16.3 percent during that period (Tables 2, 2A).
Index highs and lows: Freight shipments in May 2012 (109.6) rose 16.3 percent from the recent low in April 2009 during the recession (94.3). In April 2009, freight shipments were at their lowest level since June 1997 (92.3). The May 2012 level is down 3.8 percent from the historic freight shipment peak reached in December 2011 (114.0).
Long-term trend: Freight shipments are up 1.0 percent in the five years from the pre-recession level of May 2007 and up 8.9 percent in the 10 years from May 2002 despite declines in recent years.
Same month of previous year: May 2012 freight shipments rose 4.3 percent from May 2011 and 16.0 percent from May 2009, during the recession, but remain below the level in May 2008 (110.2) prior to the recession.
The TSI is a seasonally adjusted index that measures changes from the monthly average of the base year of 2000. It includes historic data from 1990 to the present. Release of the June index is scheduled for Aug. 8.

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