January 2021 Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) Declined 3.6% from December

The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 3.6% in January from the revised December level, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS). From January 2020 to January 2021 the index fell 0.1% compared to a decline of 1.4% from January 2019 to January 2020 and a rise of 5.3% from January 2018 to January 2019.

The level of for-hire freight shipments in January measured by the Freight TSI (136.2) was 3.7% below the all-time high level of 141.5 in August 2019 (Table 2A). BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000. See historical TSI data.

The December index was revised to 141.3 from 136.3 in last month’s release following an upward revision in truck tonnage.  Monthly numbers for January, May, and August 2020 were revised down slightly.  February, September, and October 2020 were revised up slightly.

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 for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. The TSI is seasonally-adjusted to remove regular seasons from month-to-month comparisons.

Analysis: The Freight TSI decreased 3.6% in January from December due to declines in pipeline, trucking, and air freight, despite increases in water, rail intermodal and rail carload. The January decrease took place against the background of mixed results in other indicators.

The Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing (ISM) index was down 1.8 points to 58.7, indicating slowing growth in manufacturing. The Federal Reserve Board Industrial Production (IP) Index grew 0.9% in December reflecting increases of 1.0% in manufacturing and 2.3% in mining, while utilities were down 1.2%. Housing starts declined by 6.0%. Personal Income rose 10.0% reflecting payments associated with the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act as noted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Although the January Passenger TSI is being withheld because of the difficulty of estimating air passenger miles and other modes, the December index is now being released. The index decreased 2.6% from November to December following an increase of 17.8% in November. The Passenger TSI remains above the levels of April 2020 through October 2020 though it has not returned to its level in March 2020, the first month of pandemic impact. It remained below any level the Passenger TSI had been before the pandemic for the 10th consecutive month. Air passenger and rail passenger decreased in December, but transit grew.

Trend: The January followed a record increase of 6.5% in December, for an increase of 2.6% since November 2020. The freight TSI is now above any level from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 through November. It is 3.7% below its record level of 141.5 in August 2019. The index has decreased in 10 of the last 17 months since that peak. For additional historical data, go to TSI data.

Index highs and lows: For-hire freight shipments in January 2021 (136.2) were 43.5% higher than the low in April 2009 during the recession (94.9). The January 2021 level was 3.7% below the historic peak reached in August 2019 (141.5) (Table 1A).

Long-term trend: For-hire freight shipments are up 11.4% in the five years from January 2016 and are up 23.7% in the 10 years from January 2011 (Table 5).

Same month of previous year: January 2021 for-hire freight shipments were down 0.1% from January 2020 (Tables 4, 5).

The TSI has three seasonally-adjusted indexes that measure changes from the monthly average of the base year of 2000. The three indexes are freight shipments, passenger travel and a combined measure that merges the freight and passenger indexes. See Seasonally-Adjusted Transportation Data for numbers for individual modes. TSI includes data from 2000 to the present. Release of the February 2021 index is scheduled for April 14.

Revisions: Monthly data has changed from previous releases due to the use of concurrent seasonal analysis, which results in seasonal analysis factors changing as each month’s data are added.    

BTS research has shown a clear relationship between economic cycles and the Freight and Passenger Transportation Services Indexes. See a study of this relationship using smoothed and detrended TSI data. Researchers who wish to compare TSI over time with other economic indicators, can use the FRED database, which includes freight, passenger and combined TSI, and which makes it possible to easily graph TSI alongside the other series in that database. See TSI data on FRED.

Table 1: Freight Transportation Services Index since July 2020

Percent Change from Previous Month

(Seasonally-Adjusted, Monthly Average of 2000 = 100)

  Freight        
Index Pct. Change         
July 132.9 3.3        
August 131.5 -1.1        
September 132.0 0.4        
October 132.9 0.7        
November 132.7 -0.2        
December 141.3 6.5        
January 136.2 -3.6        

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

 

Table 1A: Annual High and Low Points in Freight Transportation Services Index, 2009-2021

Year   Month Peak Month Bottom
2009 December 101.8 April 94.9
2017 December 133.5 January 124.0
2018 November 139.3 January 131.4
2019 August 141.5 December 136.6
2020 December 141.3 April 125.7
2021 (thru January) August 136.2 August 136.2

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

 

Table 2: Freight Transportation Services Index Monthly Changes, 2018-2021

Percent change from previous month

  2018 2019 2020 2021
  % Change % Change % Change % Change
January -1.6 0.7 -0.1 -3.6
February 2.0 -0.5 -0.1  
March 1.1 0.3 -0.7  
April 0.1 1.1 -7.1  
May 0.4 -0.1 1.0  
June 0.5 -0.4 1.3  
July -0.8 0.6 3.3  
August 0.2 1.3 -1.1  
September 1.4 -2.4 0.4  
October 0.5 -0.1 0.7  
November 0.4 0.0 -0.2  
December -1.4 -1.0 6.5  

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

 

Table 2A: Freight Transportation Services Index by Month, 2018-2021

  2018 2019 2020 2021
January 131.4 138.4 136.4 136.2
February 134.0 137.7 136.3  
March 135.5 138.1 135.3  
April 135.7 139.6 125.7  
May 136.3 139.4 126.9  
June 137.0 138.8 128.6  
July 135.9 139.7 132.9  
August 136.2 141.5 131.5  
September 138.1 138.1 132.0  
October 138.8 138.0 132.9  
November 139.3 138.0 132.7  
December 137.4 136.6 141.3  

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

  

Table 3: Freight Transportation Services Index Year-to-Date Change, 2012-2021

Percent change to January from December of the previous year

Year Freight    
2012 -3.0    
2013 1.9    
2014 -1.4    
2015 -0.2    
2016 1.6    
2017 -0.4    
2018 -1.6    
2019 0.7    
2020 -0.1    
2021 -3.6    

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

  

Table 4: Freight Transportation Services Index from Year-to-Year

Percent Change in the January Freight TSI

(Monthly average of 2000 = 100)

  January Freight TSI Percent change from same month previous year
2012 111.5 1.3
2013 114.3 2.5
2014 116.1 1.6
2015 122.8 5.8
2016 122.3 -0.4
2017 124.0 1.4
2018 131.4 6.0
2019 138.4 5.3
2020 136.4 -1.4
2021 136.2 -0.1

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.

NOTE: Percent changes based on numbers prior to rounding.

 

Table 5: Freight Transportation Services Index from Previous Years

Percent Change to 2021 (January to January)

Since January         Duration in years Freight TSI Percent change to January 2021    
2020 1 -0.1    
2019 2 -1.6    
2018 3 3.7    
2017 4 9.8    
2016 5 11.4    
2015 6 10.9    
2014 7 17.3    
2013 8 19.2    
2012 9 22.2    
2011 10 23.7    

SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See Transportation Services Index for documentation, data and other background information.