Written by Steven Hansen
Week 4 of 2019 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) declined according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The economically intuitive sectors rolling averages remain positive but declined.
Analyst Opinion of the Rail Data
I assume the poor data this week was caused by a mismatch in holidays from the previous year.
We review this data set to understand the economy. The intuitive sectors (total carloads removing coal, grain and petroleum) contracted 6.4 % year-over-year for this week. We primarily use rolling averages to analyze the intuitive data due to weekly volatility – and the 4 week rolling year-over-year average for the intuitive sectors declined from +6.1 % to +3.9 %.
The following graph compares the four week moving averages for carload economically intuitive sectors (red line) vs. total movements (blue line):
Intermodal transport (containers or trailers on rail cars) growth has been relatively strong over the 12 months.
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 (carloads [including coal and grain] and intermodal combined).
|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||+3.9 %||accelerating||decelerating|
|13 week rolling average||+2.2 %||decelerating||decelerating|
|52 week rolling average||+2.7 %||decelerating||decelerating|
A summary for this week from the AAR:
For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 522,026 carloads and intermodal units, down 4 percent compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending January 26 were 248,937 carloads, down 4.7 percent compared with the same week in 2018, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 273,089 containers and trailers, down 3.3 percent compared to 2018.
Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2018. They were petroleum and petroleum products, up 2,121 carloads, to 13,627; and chemicals, up 297 carloads, to 31,190. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2018 included coal, down 4,400 carloads, to 82,471; miscellaneous carloads, down 2,695 carloads, to 8,246; and nonmetallic minerals, down 2,503 carloads, to 30,172.
For the first four weeks of 2019, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 995,769 carloads, up 4.6 percent from the same point last year; and 1,060,598 intermodal units, up 3.2 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first four weeks of 2019 was 2,056,367 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.9 percent compared to last year.
The middle row in the table below removes coal, grain and petroleum from the changes in the railcar counts as these commodities are not economically intuitive.
|This week Year-over-Year||+7.4 %||+6.5 %||+6.9 %|
|— Ignoring coal, grain & petroleum||+7.7 %|
|Year Cumulative to Date||+8.1 %||+5.7 %||+6.9 %|
[click on graph below to enlarge]
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