U.S. Department of Commerce

Commodity Flow Survey

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Definitions

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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.

Commodity
– 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.

Confidentiality
– 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.
Estimates
– 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.)
  1. Air – Any individual package shipped by air that weighed 100 pounds or more.
  2. Deep draft vessel – Barges, ships, or ferries operating primarily in the open ocean. (Shipping on the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway is classified with shallow draft vessels.)
  3. For-hire truck – Shipments made by common or contract carriers under a negotiated rate.
  4. Great Lakes – A group of five freshwater lakes of central North America between the United States and Canada.
  5. Multiple modes – Shipments for which two or more of the above modes (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) of transportation are used.
  6. Other and unknown modes – Shipments for which modes are not reported, or are reported by the respondent as "Other" or "Unknown."
  7. Other mode – Any mode not listed in Mode 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13.
  8. Other multiple modes – Shipments using any other mode combinations not specifically listed.
  9. Parcel delivery/Courier/U.S. Parcel Post – Included ground and air shipments of packages and parcels that each weighed less than 100 pounds, and were transported by a for-hire carrier.
  10. Pipeline – Movements of oil, petroleum, gas, slurry, etc. through pipelines that extend to other establishments or locations beyond the shipper's establishment, excluding aqueducts for the movement of water.
  11. Private truck – Trucks operated by employees of the establishment or the buyer/receiver of the shipment, including trucks providing dedicated services to the surveyed establishment.
  12. Railroad – Any common carrier or private railroad.
  13. Shallow draft vessel – Barges, ships, or ferries operating on rivers and canals; in harbors, the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Intracoastal Waterway, the Inside Passage to Alaska, major bays and inlets, or in the ocean close to the U.S. shoreline.
  14. Truck – Shipments using for-hire truck only, private truck only, or a combination of for-hire truck and private truck.
  15. Unknown – Any shipment where the mode of transportation can not be determined.
  16. Water – Shipments using shallow draft vessel only, deep draft vessel only, or Great Lakes vessel only. Combinations of these modes, such as shallow draft vessel and Great Lakes vessel are included as "Other multiple modes." (Note: By definition, "shallow draft," "Great Lakes," and "deep draft" are mutually exclusive.)
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.

Shipment
– 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.

Ton-miles
– 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 | sssd.cfs@census.gov |  Last Revised: March 21, 2014