Commodity Flow Survey

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Auxiliary establishment
– An establishment primarily involved in rendering support services for other establishments within the same company, such as warehouses, distribution centers and central administrative offices. Auxiliary establishments with shipping activity are included in the CFS.

Average miles per shipment
– Average miles are computed by dividing the total miles traveled by the total number of shipments.
Business Register
– The Census Bureau's Business Register is a database of all known establishments located in the United States or its territories, where an establishment is defined as a single physical location where business transactions take place or services are performed. The CFS sample is selected from eligible establishments on the Business Register that are classified as mining, manufacturing, wholesale, electronic shopping and mail-order houses, fuel dealers, and publishers, with payroll.
Cell suppression
– Cell suppression is used in CFS tables for two purposes: (1) protecting sensitive cells posing disclosure risks as indicated with a 'D', and; (2) masking estimates of poor data quality or otherwise not meeting publication standards. The second form of suppression is often the result of high sampling variability and is represented by an 'S' in the respective cell.

Coefficient of variation
– Is a ratio of standard deviation to mean, it is a rough measure of relative dispersion in probability distribution and serves as a measure of relative risk.

– A product that an establishment produces, sells, or distributes. This does not include items that are considered as excess or waste of the establishment's operation. Respondents report the description and the five-digit Standard Classification of Transported Goods (SCTG) code for the commodity contained in the shipment. Shipments involving multiple commodities are classified as the commodity with the greatest weight in the total shipment.

– In accordance with Title 13 of the United States Code, no estimates are published that would disclose the operations of an individual firm. Title 13 authorizes the Census Bureau to conduct censuses and surveys. Section 9 of the same Title requires that any information collected from the public under the authority of Title 13 be maintained as confidential.
Disclosure avoidance
– Disclosure is the release of data that have been deemed confidential. It generally reveals information about a specific individual or establishment and/or permits deduction of sensitive information about a particular individual or establishment. Disclosure avoidance is the process used to protect the confidentiality of the survey data provided by an individual or firm. For the CFS, the primary method of disclosure avoidance is Noise Infusion. Disclosure protection is accomplished in a manner that causes the vast majority of cell values to be perturbed by at most a few percentage points. In certain circumstances, some individual cells may be suppressed on a case by case basis for additional disclosure avoidance. In these cases the data are replaced with a 'D' in the tables.
– Data in CFS tables reflect survey estimates, that is, these numbers and percentages are estimated totals produced using the sum of weighted shipment data (reported or imputed). CFS respondents provide data for a sample of shipments made by their respective establishments in the survey year. For each establishment, an estimate of that establishment's total value of shipments is produced for the entire survey year. To do this, four different weights are used – the shipment weight, the shipment nonresponse weight, the quarter weight, and the quarter nonresponse weight. Three additional weights are then applied to produce estimates representative of the entire universe – the establishment-level adjustment weight, the establishment (or sample) weight, and the industry-level adjustment weight.
Great circle distance
– The shortest distance between two points on the surface of a sphere over the surface of that sphere.
Intermodal shipment
– For the CFS, an intermodal shipment is defined as a shipment of a commodity that has been placed within a piece of transportation equipment that is designed to be interchanged (transferred) between different modes of transportation under a single rate (e.g., a single bill of lading). Examples of intermodal transportation include the shipment of commodities in truck trailers designed to be placed on railroad flat cars (TOFC); shipping containers designed to be placed on railroad flat cars (COFC); or shipping containers for marine transportation. Intermodal (IM or ISO) tanks designed for interchange between the truck, rail and marine modes are also examples of intermodal transportation reportable in the CFS.
Mode of transportation
– The type of transportation used for moving a shipment to its domestic destination. (For exports, the domestic destination is the port of exit.)

Single mode shipments – Shipments transported by only one of the following modes: Private truck, For-hire truck, Rail, any water mode, Pipeline, or Air.

Private truck – Trucks operated by employees of this establishment or the buyer/receiver of the shipment. Includes trucks providing dedicated services to the establishment.

For-hire truck – Truck operated by common or contract carriers made under a negotiated rate.

Rail – Any common carrier or private railroad.

Inland Water – In previous cycles this was known as Shallow Draft. Inland Water refers to vessels or barges operating primarily in inland or coastal waterways, both within and along the borders of the United States, such as rivers, lakes (excluding the Great Lakes), coastal waters, locks, and canals.

Great Lakes – Any vessel or barge operating on the Great Lakes.

Deep Sea – In previous cycles this was known as Deep Draft. Deep Sea refers to vessels or barges operating primarily in the open waters of the ocean, mostly outside the borders of the United States.

Multiple Waterways – Shipments sent by any combination of Inland Water, Great Lakes, and Deep Sea, usually involving a transfer between vessels.

Pipeline – Movements of commodities i.e., oil, petroleum, gas, slurry, etc. through pipelines that extend to other establishments or locations beyond the shipper's establishment. Does not include aqueducts for the movement of water.

Air – Any shipment sent by an air route to its destination This includes shipments carried by truck to or from an airport.

Multiple mode shipments – Shipments for which two or more of the following modes of transportation were used:

  • Private and/or for-hire truck
  • Rail
  • Any water mode
  • Pipeline
  • Air (except with only truck modes)

Parcel, U.S. Postal Service, or Courier shipments are considered multiple modes because this category includes all parcel shipments whether on the ground or via air tendered to a parcel or express carrier. Parcel shipments are limited to a maximum of 150 pounds. Note: "Truck and Rail" and "Rail and Water" combinations included under "Multiple Modes" may not reflect all the movement of trailers or containers by rail and at least one other mode of transportation. Since the shipper may not always know the modal combinations used to transport the goods, some shipments moving by more than one mode may be reported as a single mode shipment. This may result in underestimation of multimodal shipments in the CFS.

Parcel delivery/Courier/U.S. Parcel Post – Includes ground and air segments of shipments of packages and parcels. Parcel shipments are limited to a maximum weight of 150 pounds.

Other multiple modes – Shipments sent by any other mode combinations not specifically listed in the tables.

Other modes – Shipments for which no mode of transportation were reported, or were reported by the respondent as "Other." And shipments with a mode other than any of the listed modes, such as conveyor belt, animal power, etc.

Noise Infusion
– Is a method of disclosure avoidance in which values of each shipment are perturbed prior to tabulation by applying a random noise multiplier.

North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)
– The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. NAICS was developed under the auspices of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and adopted in 1997 to replace the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. NAICS groups industries into 20 broad sectors (as opposed to 10 sectors under SIC), identified by a six-digit code (SIC had a four-digit code) and is based on the type of the establishment, not the type of commodity. The SIC was used in conducting the 1993 and 1997 CFS. Beginning with the 2002 CFS, the NAICS was used.

[Note:The NAICS hierarchy for the current 1,170 industries is digits 1 & 2 digits - Industry Sector, 3- Subsector, 4- Industry Group, 5- NAICS Industry, 6- National Industry]

Sampling error
– Errors that occur because only part of the population is directly contacted. With any sample, differences are likely to exist between the characteristics of the sampled population and the larger group from which the sample was chosen. A measure of sampling error is likewise estimated and provided for all estimates shown in tables. Common measures related to sampling error are the sampling variance, the standard error, and the coefficient of variation (CV)

Sampling Variance
– The squared difference, averaged over all possible samples of the same size and design, between the estimator and its average value.

Standard Error (SE)
– Measure of the variation among the estimates from all possible samples; measure of the precision with which an estimate from a particular sample approximates the average results of all possible samples; square root of the sampling variance.

– A shipment is a single movement of goods, commodities, or products from an establishment to a customer or to another establishment owned or operated by the same company as the originating establishment (e.g., a warehouse, distribution center, or retail or wholesale outlet). Full or partial truckloads are counted as a single shipment only if all commodities on the truck are destined for the same location. If a truck makes multiple deliveries on a route, the goods delivered at each stop are counted as one shipment. Interoffice memos, payroll checks, or business correspondence are not considered shipments. Shipments such as refuse, scrap paper, waste, or recyclable materials are not considered shipments unless the establishment is in the business of selling or providing these materials.

Standard Classification of Transported Goods (SCTG)
– The commodities shown in CFS data are classified using the SCTG coding system. The SCTG coding system was developed jointly by agencies of the United States and Canadian governments based on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (Harmonized System) to address statistical needs in regard to products transported. The SCTG employs a five-digit numbering system, the structure of which is hierarchical consisting of four levels. Beginning with the 1997 CFS, the SCTG system was used.

[Note: The Standard Transportation Commodity Code (STCC) coding scheme maintained by the Association of American Railroads was used in the initial CFS in 1993.]

Third-party logistics provider (3PL)
– An outsourced provider that manages and provides all or a significant part of an organization's warehousing and transportation needs. A 3PL provides under contract some or all of these functions: management of transportation; warehousing; transportation; inventory control; and order management. Companies that provide only trucking services or only warehousing services are not considered 3PLs.

– The shipment weight multiplied by the mileage traveled by the shipment. For CFS, the respondents are ask to report shipment weight in pounds. Aggregated pound-miles are converted to ton-miles. Mileage is calculated as the distance between the shipment origin and destination ZIP Codes. For shipments by truck, rail, or shallow draft vessels, the mileage excludes international segments. For example, mileages from Alaska to the continental United States exclude any mileages through Canada (see the "Mileage Calculations" section for more details). For trucks making multiple stops, the ton-miles are calculated for each delivery, and each drop-off point is treated as a final destination. Ton-miles estimates are displayed in millions.

Tons shipped
– The total weight of the entire shipment. Respondents are to report the weight in pounds. Aggregated pounds are converted to short-tons (2,000 pounds). The ton totals in the CFS represent the sum of separate shipments of a commodity as it moves through the production and consumption segments of the supply chain; hence the tonnage of goods may be counted more than once in the production life cycle (e.g., goods that are moved through distribution centers).

Total modal activity
– Refers to the values for the overall activity (e.g., ton-miles) of a specific mode of transportation. It includes shipments made with a particular mode, whether used as single-mode shipment, or as part of a multiple-mode shipment. For example, the total modal activity for private truck is the total ton-miles carried by private truck in single-mode shipments, combined with the total ton-miles carried by private truck in all multiple-mode shipments that include private truck (private truck and for-hire truck, private truck and rail, private truck and air, etc.)
Value of shipments
– The dollar value of the entire shipment. This is defined as the net selling value, exclusive of freight charges and excise taxes. The value data are displayed in millions of dollars. The total value of shipments, as measured by the CFS, and the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) provide different measures of economic activity in the United States and are not directly comparable. GDP is the value of all goods produced and services performed by labor and capital located in the United States. The value of shipments, as measured by the CFS, is the market value of goods shipped from manufacturing, mining, wholesale, and select retail and service establishments, as well as warehouses and managing offices of multiunit establishments. Three important differences between GDP and value of shipments:
  1. GDP captures goods produced by all establishments located in the United States, while CFS measures goods shipped from a subset of all goods-producing establishments.
  2. GDP measures the value of goods produced and of services performed. CFS measures the value of goods shipped.
  3. GDP counts for only the value-added at each step in the production of a product. CFS captures the value of shipments of materials used to produce or manufacture a product, as well as the value of shipments of the finished product itself. This means that the value of the materials used to produce a particular product contributes multiple times to the value of the commodity in the CFS.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Commodity Flow Survey | (301) 763-2108 | |  Last Revised: June 15, 2015