IANA report points to strong Q4 and full-year 2012 intermodal performance

By Jeff Berman · February 8, 2013

During a prolonged period of economic ebbs and flows, one constant in recent years has been the resilience of intermodal transportation. That was made clear by this week’s release of the Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics report from the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

IANA said that 2012 was a record year for intermodal container movements at roughly 13,108,672 million, which topped 2011 by 5.9 percent and the previous high in 2007 by 9.8 percent.

And total 2012 intermodal volume—at 14,632,228 million—was up 4.0 percent annually. Domestic containers—at 5,528,184 million—saw a 12 percent annual gain, and international containers—at 7,580,488 million—were up 1.7 percent. All domestic equipment at 7,051,740 million—was up 6.5 percent, and trailers continued their slide, down 10.1 percent at 1,523,556 million.

For the fourth quarter, total volume—at 3,671,252—was up 2.0 percent compared to 2011. Domestic containers again paced all intermodal volumes, up 10.5 percent at 1,444,919 million, and international containers—at 1,846,635 million—were down 0.7 percent. All domestic equipment was up 4.9 percent at 1,824,617 million, and trailers dipped 12.2 percent to 379,698.

With fourth quarter annual growth of 2 percent lower than annual growth of 4 percent, IANA said that some shipping trends make it difficult to discern how much of the weakness was due to one-time factors and how much was due to economic uncertainty. The report also pointed out that December was not a strong month, although it was not clear how much was due to the since resolved East and Gulf Coast ports and labor contract situation and economic issues.

“Speculation heading into the fourth quarter was that things would be much flatter in the fourth quarter, and that did not happen,” said IANA President and CEO Joni Casey in an interview. “We were expecting similar growth but not at the levels that we saw.”

The growth on the domestic container side does not come as a major surprise, as domestic containers grew for the fourth straight quarter at a double-digit clip, coupled with the fact that big-box loads have nearly doubled in the last decade and things like strong investments into rail networks, terminals and container fleets, high fuel prices, financial and regulatory burdens on truckers, high levels of rail service, and expansion of rail product offerings all remain intact, said IANA.

Total domestic intermodal volumes increased 1.8 percent from the third quarter to the fourth quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis, which IANA said was the strongest growth of the year in leading domestic intermodal volumes to a new seasonally-adjusted high.

What’s more, domestic intermodal has grown for 13 consecutive quarters, even though IANA said gains slowed down for the third straight quarter and domestic growth was at its slowest pace since the recession ended.

“We see this continuing,” said Casey. “There is just no indication that is going to change. We are looking at ten-plus percent domestic growth this year. It still remains to be seen how it will shake out, but the indicators and conditions driving this momentum will be maintained if not increased, especially with the recent spike in fuel prices.”

Although domestic intermodal is in good shape at the moment, Casey observed that international represents more than 50 percent of total volumes at 52 percent, and she said about three-to-four percent growth is expected for 2013.

IANA said that total international shipments were down 7.7 percent from December 2011 to December 2012, marking the worst month on record since December 2009.


About the Author

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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