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Intermodal shipping: IANA reports solid Q1 intermodal volume growth

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
May 19, 2010

Spurred by increased consumer demand and inventory replenishment, intermodal volume for the first quarter trended positive due in large part to growth on the domestic side, according to the most recent Market Trends report from the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).
    IANA reported that first quarter total intermodal loadings at 3,019,310 were up 8.4 percent year-over-year, topping the fourth and third quarters of 2009, which were down 6.4 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively, year-over-year.
    And three of the four major intermodal categories tracked by IANA all saw positive year-over-year growth in the first quarter. Domestic containersat 1,034,036were up 15.7 percent. All domestic equipmentat 1,417,400was up 9.0 percent. IANA noted that in the U.S. all U.S. regions recorded increases in domestic container shipments greater than 10 percent annually.
    The only negative indicator for the quarter was trailersat 383,364representing a 5.9 percent decline. Trailer volume has been down 19 of the last 21 quarters.
    IANA Vice President of Member Services Tom Malloy told LM that this report is good news on a number of fronts, the most significant one being the 15.7 percent bump in domestic containers compared to the same timeframe a year ago, when they were also up 0.1 percent year-over-year.
    Last year for this quarter, domestic containers [at 893,506] hit their highest point, when everything else was off, said Malloy. That is the biggest takeaway of this report.
    While many economic indicators are improving and showing signs of growth, Malloy cautioned that first quarter figures are matched against a dismal first quarter of 2009, when the economy was still very sluggish. Whats more, a closer look reveals that total intermodal loadings for the first quarter are 11.1 percent below the roughly 3.4 billion loadings for the first quarter of 2007, which was the best first quarter performance ever, according to IANA.
    On the international side, Malloy explained that while there was nearly 8 percent annual growth, actual quarterly performance was somewhat misleading, with January being moderate, February a little bit better. And a very strong March ended up representing the bulk of quarterly growth.
    March made the whole quarter look good, but trending-wise things are moving the right way, noted Malloy.
IANAs first quarter data, coupled with strong intermodal growth signs of late from the Association of American Railroads and FTR Associates, supports the anecdotal consensus that it is becoming more popular among shippers, even though straight trucking movements still account for more than 70 percent of all freight transportation activity.
    IMC performance: Intermodal Marketing Companies saw percentage gains on an annual basis in the first quarter, with intermodal loadsat 257,332up 12.1 percent, and total loadsat 398,960at 6.7 percent. Highway loadsat 141,628were down 1.8 percent. Intermodal and highway revenue at $578,254,686 and $179,359,127 were up 16.2 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively.
    Even though most key IMC metrics were up annually, they were largely down compared to the fourth quarter of 2009. Malloy attributed this to a bit of volume uptick in the fourth quarter, which due to late year growth.
    While IMC growth on a sequential basis, the overall outlook looks positive for 2010, according to IANA.
    With the first quarter off to a quick start, it looks like intermodal is poised for a strong rebound in 2010, read the Market Trends report. Economic recovery, continued strong service levels, growing domestic container fleets, rising fuel prices and broadening railroad product offerings all are fueling the industrys sharp turnaround from the difficulties of 2009.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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