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WASHINGTON, DC-Though recent trucking industry statistics show some improvement relative to preceding months, analysts do not anticipate a concomitant jump in freight volumes. As a result, owners of warehouse and distribution properties should at best expect only a very modest boost in leasing activity.

The Arlington, VA-based American Trucking Assocations’ (ATA) advanced seasonally adjusted for-hire truck tonnage index increased 2.1% in August compared to July but was down 7.5% compared to August 2008. Nonetheless ATA chief economist Bob Costello claims the increase, which followed a similar rise the preceding month, was a positive sign for the industry.

“The gains in tonnage during July and August reflect a growing economy and less of an overhang in inventories,” he says. Though Costello believes the overall trend in truck tonnage will continue upward in coming months, he expects the rate of increase to slow. “While I am optimistic that the worst is behind us, most economic indicators, including industrial output and household spending, suggest freight tonnage will exhibit moderate, and probably inconsistent, growth in the months ahead.”

Orders for new heavy duty trucks showed a 5.2% increase in September compared to the same period last year, according to data from FTR Associates, a freight transportation forecasting firm based in Nashville, IN. Though the total volume of orders has risen for four consecutive months, the current jump marked the first year-over-year rise since June ’08. The figure includes orders for the US, Canada and Mexico, as well as vehicles purchased for export to other continents.

Despite the rise, FTR president Eric Starks maintains current increases are driven primarily by abnormal industry activity in advance of a coming change in the EPA emissions mandate rather than by a rise in freight volume. “The data we track does not support any significant purchasing activity driven by increased freight demand any time soon,” he says. “We continue to advise our clients to expect a continued soft recovery at least through 2010.”

Starks’ view is supported by retail sales statistics, which show sales falling 1.5% in September following a 2.2% gain in August. Further sales declines are anticipated. The Washington, DC-based National Retail Federation forecast a 1% holiday sales decline compared to last year and a 3% decline in annual retail sales for the entire year.

“As the global economy continues to recover from the worst economic crisis most retailers have ever seen, Americans will focus primarily on practical gifts and shop on a budget this holiday season,” observes NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells.

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