The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 0.6% in December, pushing the index 6.2% higher for the full year and making it the index's best year since 1998.

November’s increase was significantly larger than the preliminary gain of 2.7% ATA reported on December 20, 2013. In December, the index equaled 131.7 (2000=100) versus 130.9 in November. December’s level is a record high. Compared with December 2012, the SA index increased 8.2%.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 123.0 in December, which was 1.4% below the previous month (124.8).

“Tonnage ended 2013 on a high note, which fits with many economic indicators as trucking is an excellent reflection of the tangible goods economy,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “The final quarter was the strongest we’ve seen in a couple of years, rising 2.2% from the third quarter and 9.1% from a year earlier.” 

Costello reiterated his statement from last month: the tonnage acceleration in the second half of the year is pointing to an economy that is likely stronger than some might believe.

“I’m seeing more broad-based gains now. The improvement is not limited to the tank truck and flatbed sectors like earlier in the year," he said. "With manufacturing and consumer spending picking up, coupled with solid volumes from hydraulic fracturing, I look for tonnage to be good in 2014 as well.”

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 68.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 9.4 billion tons of freight in 2012. Motor carriers collected $642.1 billion, or 80.7% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.