The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported a 0.4% increase in its for-hire truck tonnage index in September after recording a 0.9% decline in August. However, Bob Costello, the trade group’s chief economist, noted that the September uptick did little to move the index off the overall flat trend-line it’s been on over the past nine months.

“The year-over-year deceleration in tonnage continued during September,” Costello said, noting that an acceleration in housing starts, which is helping truck tonnage, is being offset by a flattening in manufacturing output and elevated inventories throughout the supply chain.

“Expect year-over-year comparisons to continue shrinking through the rest of the year as tonnage grew nicely during the last three months of 2011,” he stressed, noting that overall tonnage is expected to increase less than 3.5% in 2012. 

Year-to-date, ATA said tonnage is up 3.6% compared to the same period in 2011 and that could still grow according to some projections for holiday spending.

According to the Nielsen research firm, higher consumer confidence levels, increased impulse buying and consumer intent to spend more could all lead to an upside surprise during the 2012 holiday spending period.

“With nearly a quarter of consumers indicating they have already started their holiday shopping by mid-September, I expect ‘pragmatic enthusiasm’ to inch spending levels higher than last year,” noted James Russo, Nielsen’s VP- global consumer insights.

He added that Nielsen’s Consumer Confidence Index is the highest since before the recession, with shoppers across the income spectrum saying they plan to spend more in multiple areas.

Although almost six out of every ten consumers (59%) reported plans to spend the same as last year, there is a 10-point drop – from 37% in 2011 to 27% in 2012 – in the number of people expecting to spend less. Another 8% of respondents reported plans to spend more this holiday season, up from 5% in 2011 and 2010.

As a result, Nielsen is forecasting holiday spending for November and December to reach $98.3 billion, with dollar sales to increase 2.3% and unit sales to remain generally flat at 0.1%.