Trucking volumes fell in the first month of 2016, as excess business inventories put a lid on shipping demand to start the year.
The American Trucking Associations’ seasonally-adjusted truck tonnage index slipped 1.4% in January from a month earlier. At 132.8, the index was flat compared with January 2015.
November and December were strong months for the industry, with the seasonally-adjusted index hitting an all-time high of 134.7 in December.
Several large retailers have said they are trying to restrain inventory expansion after overstocking in the middle of last year. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a steady growth in the ratio of inventories to sales among retailers and manufacturers in 2015. The measure reached its highest level since early 2009 in December, at 1.38 for manufacturers and 1.49 for retailers.
“January was very slow but February has picked up,” said Harold Friedman, senior vice president of global corporate development at Data2Logistics, which processes freight payments for retailers and manufacturers. “The warmer weather has had an impact, I think. People weren’t buying winter clothes and they weren’t going skiing, and that has a ripple effect on the economy.”
Mr. Friedman said the muted shipping so far this year is a continuation of lackluster business late in 2015.
“We expected to see more volume by the end of the year than we did. It’s not that we lost customers, but that business with many customers was just slower than we had anticipated,” he said.
Earnings results this week gave glimmers of hope, as some retailers reported stronger-than-expected results for the fourth quarter.
Home Depot Inc.’s sales rose in the fourth quarter as big-ticket items held strong.
And Macy’s Inc. said January sales improved, and inventories were up only 1.6%—less than some analysts’ expectations.