Figures don’t lie, but they can take on a different appearance depending on how they’re framed.
For instance, recently released data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) indicate that the for-hire transportation industry carried less freight June than in May.
The BTS’s monthly Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) fell 0.8 percent in June from May. It is the fourth month of the first six in 2017 in which the TSI has dropped.
Well, that doesn’t sound good, until you add that May’s TSI was the highest since records began in 2000. Even with the slight dip, June’s TSI is still the second-highest on record, and while there have thus far been four months when TSI declined in 2017 and only two months when it increased, the net increase so far in 2017 has been 1.3 per cent.
The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles. The index measures the output from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight, and is seasonally-adjusted to remove regular seasons from month-to-month comparisons.
June’s Freight TSI of 126.2 as up 2.9 percent from a year ago, and 33.3 percent above its low of 94.7 in April 2009 during the most recent recession.
For-hire freight shipments are up 11.2 percent in the five years from June 2012 and are up 15.0 percent in the 10 years from June 2007.
Among the six major transportation modes, June’s decline was due to significant decreases in trucking and water, while air freight, rail carloads and rail intermodal grew. Pipeline remained steady. The increase ran counter to mostly rising trends in other economic indicators. Employment, housing starts and personal income all grew. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production index rose by 0.4 percent in June, due to growth in manufacturing and mining, and the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing index rose to 57.8, indicating accelerating growth.
While the monthly TSI declined, the quarterly TSI for the second quarter of 2017 rose. The 1.4 percent second quarter growth in the freight TSI was consistent with the accelerating pace of GDP growth, which reached 2.6 percent in the second quarter.
The combined freight and passenger TSI fell 0.3 percent in June from its May level. The combined TSI June 2017 level of 126.5 was 2.3 percent above the June 2016 level, and is up 10.9 percent since 2012 and up 12.9 percent since 2007.