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  May 11th, 2017 | Written by

US Freight Index Fell in March

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  • The Freight Transportation Services Index fell 1.5 percent in March.
  • February's Freight Transportation Services Index of 125.9 represented an all-time high.
  • For-hire freight shipments are up 11 percent in the five years from March 2012.

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry in the United States, fell 1.5 percent in March from February, according to numbers released yesterday by the US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS).

The March 2017 index level (124.0) was 30.9 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession. February’s number of 125.9 represented an all-time high. BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000.

The Freight TSI measures the 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 trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines, and air freight. The TSI is seasonally-adjusted and does not include international or coastal waterborne movements, private trucking, courier services, or the US Postal Service.

The March Freight TSI declined by 1.5 percent from the previous month due to decreases in trucking, rail carloads, rail intermodal, and water, while air freight and pipeline grew. The decline took place against a background of mixed signals in other economic indicators.

Employment and personal income grew, while housing starts declined. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index rose by 0.5 percent in March, but this was entirely due to growth in utilities, as manufacturing output declined.

The 0.5 percent first quarter decrease from the previous quarter took place as gross domestic product growth slowed to an annual rate of 0.7 percent from 2.1 percent in fourth quarter 2016, itself a decline from 3.5 percent in the third quarter, while industrial production grew by 0.3 percent (an annual rate of 1.5 percent). The slowdown in GDP growth in the most recent two quarters was preceded by a third quarter decline in Freight TSI and the rapid GDP growth in the third quarter was preceded by a 2.1 percent increase in Freight TSI in the second quarter.

The 1.5 percent decline of Freight TSI in March 2017 reversed the growth in February and thus brought TSI down from its record high in February back to the level of January 2017. TSI Freight remains at a historically high level – TSI for all four months from December 2016 to March 2017 was above the level for all previous months except for July 2016.

The decline in first quarter 2017 was the sixth quarterly decline out of the nine quarters since December 2014, and was the third largest quarterly decline in that period. Despite the quarterly declines, the index is now 0.6 percent above the level of December 2014. Since the second quarter of 2016 TSI freight has alternated quarters of growth and decline. The index remains high compared to earlier years, rising 30.9 percent since the low of 94.7 in April 2009. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

On a year-to-date basis, for-hire freight shipments measured by the index were down 0.5 percent in March compared to the end of 2016.

The long-term trend shows that for-hire freight shipments are up 11.0 percent in the five years from March 2012 and are up 11.0 percent in the 10 years from the pre-recession level of March 2007. March 2017 for-hire freight shipments were up 3.2 percent from March 2016.