Tonnage continues to climb in the fourth quarter – still considered trucking’s “peak season” for freight volumes – which is in line with analyst expectations for moderate economic growth.

The American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) for-hire truck tonnage index rose 0.8% in October after increasing 1.8% in September, which shows there are some bright spots in the U.S. economy, noted Bob Costello, the trade group’s chief economist.

Compared with October 2009, tonnage is up 6%, which was better than September’s 5.3% year-over-year gain, he said. Year-to-date, tonnage is up 6.1% compared with the same period in 2009, the ATA noted.

“October tonnage levels were at the highest level in three months, even after accounting for typical seasonal shipping patterns,” Costello said. “These gains fit with reports out of both the manufacturing and retail sectors and show there is a little bit of life in this economic recovery.”

That dovetails with the outlook of Jon Langenfeld, senior transportation analyst with investment firm Robert W. Baird & Co.

Langenfeld noted in his recent monthly “Freight Flow” brief that truck cargo volumes continue to improve into the fourth quarter, albeit with some hitches.

The Baird Freight Index increased 5.9% year-over-year in October versus a 4.3% improvement in September, he said, with trends roughly consistent with average seasonal expectations. “Many contacts suggest volumes modestly improved into November through mid-month,” he said.

Langenfeld added that truckload pricing growth continues, with the pace increasing from the first half of 2010.

“Owing to fewer contractual renewals occurring in the second half of the year, fourth quarter sequential improvement will likely be muted,” he cautioned. “However, ongoing capacity rationalization and upcoming regulatory announcements alongside relatively balanced supply/demand dynamics support further pricing growth into a slow-growth economy.”