The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 0.9 percent in March from February, falling for the second consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). The March 2016 index level (120.0) was 26.7 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession.
The level of freight shipments in March measured by the Freight TSI (120.0) was 2.8 percent below the all-time high level of 123.5 in November 2014 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000.
The February index was revised down to 121.1 from 122.2 in last month’s release, and the January index was revised down to 122.9 from 123.1.
The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in 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.
Analysis: The March Freight TSI decrease of 0.9 percent from February was broad in terms of mode – all freight modes decreased except for air freight, which rebounded after a significant decrease in February. The decrease was driven by continued weakness in the mining (including oil and gas well drilling and servicing), utility and manufacturing sectors of the economy. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index declined 0.6 percent in March, its second consecutive monthly decline. Housing starts were 8.8 percent below the February level.
The first-quarter TSI decline of 1.2 percent from the fourth quarter matched trends in the larger economy. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth decreased to the relatively slow annual rate of 0.5 percent. The Industrial Production index also declined during the first quarter.
Trend: Following declines of 1.5 percent from January to February and 0.9 percent from February to March, the Freight TSI was 1.2 percent below its level of December 2015. The index fell to the lowest point since March 2014, 2.8 percent below the high point of November 2014. The two-month decline was the largest since January 2014. The first-quarter decline of 1.2 percent was the largest quarterly decline since the third quarter of 2012. The Freight TSI has now declined in four of the last five quarters. The index remains high compared to earlier years and has increased by 26.7 percent since its low of 94.7 in April 2009.
Index highs and lows: Freight shipments in March 2016 (120.0) were 26.7 percent higher than the recent low in April 2009 during the recession (94.7). The March 2016 level was 2.8 percent below the historic peak reached in November 2014 (123.5).
Year to date: Freight shipments measured by the index were down 1.2 percent in March compared to the end of 2015.