Rail Week Ending 22 November 2014: Rail Growth Slowing Continues. End of Growth Cycle or Simply Holiday Distortions?

November 26th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 47 of 2014 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) was mixed according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The rate of growth softened in all of the rolling averages reported below. Holiday season transport may be affected by a change in logic by shippers. This will only be known in hindsight months from now.

Follow up:

This analysis is looking for clues in the rail data to show the direction of economic activity - and is not necessarily looking for clues of profitability of the railroads. The weekly data is fairly noisy, and the best way to view it is to look at the rolling averages which generally are in a general growth cycle.

Percent current rolling average  is larger than the rolling average of one year ago Current quantities accelerating or decelerating Current rolling average accelerating or decelerating compared to the rolling average one year ago
4 week rolling average 1.9% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average 3.3% decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average 3.8% accelerating decelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported mixed U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Nov. 22, 2014 with 295,812 total carloads, down 0.3 percent compared with the same week last year. Total U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 269,373 units, up 0.7 percent compared with the same week last year. Total combined U.S. weekly rail traffic was 565,185 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.2 percent compared with the same week last year.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, including petroleum and petroleum products with 16,037 carloads, up 11.5 percent. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2013 were led by farm products, excluding grain and food, with 16,747 carloads, down 6.4 percent.

For the first 47 weeks of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 13,720,901 carloads, up 3.4 percent compared with the same point last year, and 12,273,260 intermodal units, up 5.2 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 47 weeks of 2014 was 25,994,161 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.2 percent from last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 0.9% higher [note that the this figure is for last week as the EIA did not release this week's figures at time of this post] than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013. The middle line on the table below removes coal and grain from the changes in the railcar counts as neither of these commodities is economically intuitive.

This Week
Carloads Intermodal Total
This week Year-over-Year -0.3% 0.7% 0.2%
Ignoring coal and grain 1.2%
Year Cumulative to Date 3.4% 5.2% 4.2%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart

/images/z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended November 15, 2014:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.9 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.1% lower than last week's estimate and 0.9% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013
  • Coal production east of the Mississippi River totaled 7.9 mmst
  • Coal production west of the Mississippi River totaled 11.0 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 867.6 mmst, 0.1% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2013

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