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BTS Statistics Release: December 2015 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI)

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 0.4 percent in December from November, declining for the second consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). The December 2015 index level (121.0) was 27.8 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession (Tables 1, 2, and 2A).

The level of freight shipments in December measured by the Freight TSI (121.0) was 2.3 percent below the all-time high level of 123.8 in November 2014 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. 

The November index was revised to 121.5 from 122.0 in last month’s release with smaller downward revisions for August through October.

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 December Freight TSI decrease of 0.4 percent from November was broad in terms of mode – all freight modes decreased except for trucking, which increased slightly. The decrease was driven by 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 0.4 percent in December while the ISM Manufacturing Index was below 50, indicating declining manufacturing activity. Housing starts were also below the November level. 

The fourth-quarter TSI decline of 1.2 percent from the third quarter matched trends in the larger economy. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth decreased to the relatively slow quarterly rate of 0.2 percent (which is equivalent to an annual rate of 0.7 percent). The Industrial Production index also declined during the fourth quarter.

Trend: Following declines of 1.3 percent from October to November and 0.4 percent from November to December, the Freight TSI was 1.7 percent below its October level. The consecutive declines were the first time the index fell two months in a row since February 2015. After the November and December declines, the index was 2.3 percent below the November 2014 high point. The fourth quarter decline of 1.2 percent was the largest quarterly decline since the first quarter of 2012. The freight TSI declined in three of the four quarters of 2015. The index remains high compared to earlier years and has increased by 27.8 percent since its low of 94.7 in April 2009. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: Freight shipments in December 2015 (121.0) were 27.8 percent higher than the recent low in April 2009 during the recession (94.7). The December 2015 level was 2.3 percent below the historic peak reached in November 2014 (123.8).

Full year: Freight shipments measured by the index were down 2.0 percent in December compared to the end of 2014, the first full year decline since 2012 (Table 3).

See Freight TSI Press Release for summary tables and additional data. See Transportation Services Index for historical data and methodology.