Early data shows seasonally adjusted for-hire truck tonnage increased 1.2% in March compared with February, according to the American Trucking Assns. This follows a 1.6% increase in February, which reinforces earnings statements by trucking executives that surmised the freight environment strengthened late in the first quarter.

Compared with March 2006 the index grew 1.6%, the first year-over-year increase since June 2006.

“The latest increases…bode well for the industry, although year-over-year changes could still fall back into negative territory during some future months,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist. “Many motor carriers are telling us anecdotally that April has been filled with starts and stops.”

Costello believes the freight environment will improve gradually in 2007 as the economy works its way through an inventory correction.