IANA reports a 4.5 percent gain in total Q1 intermodal volumes
May 02, 2013 - LM Editorial
In the first quarter edition of its Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics Report, the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) said this week that total first quarter intermodal container and trailer movements—at 3,682,049 trailers and containers—were up 4.5 percent annually.
As has been the case for six straight quarters, domestic containers—at 1,427,802— outpaced all intermodal categories for a 10.2 percent annual gain. This was slightly below the fourth quarter’s 2012 10.5 percent annual increase.
IANA noted in the report that that last time domestic volumes declined on a quarter-to-quarter basis was in the second quarter of 2009, adding that on a seasonally-adjusted basis domestic intermodal was up 3.0 percent compared to the fourth quarter, marking its strongest growth rate since the second quarter of 2010.
While it has been largely noted that domestic intermodal gains have occurred due to lower fuel costs, improving service, and major investments into rail networks, among others, it clear that intermodal is taking share from over the road trucking and will continue to be an area of secular growth for railroads.
But while the growth rates are impressive, industry experts maintain that these strong domestic container intermodal volumes are due in large part to freight coming out of intermodal trailers into trailers or from one box to another, coupled with the fact that the gross number of intermodal loadings—both domestic and container—were higher in 2006 than in 2012 as was gross GDP and industrial production. What’s more, during that same period the number of truckloads moved and truck tonnage volume is larger than intermodal.
IANA President and CEO Joni Casey told LM that the growth in domestic containers is a combination of transloading—both from small 40-foot international containers into larger 53-foot domestic boxes, and “also a result of additional market share due to actual modal shifts.”
First quarter international containers—at 1,869,988—were up 3.0 percent annually, and trailers decreased 6.3 percent—to 384,259. Even though trailers were down, IANA pointed out that the rate of decline was not as high as the 10 percent or higher levels seen in the previous two quarters.
The IANA report explained that the gains on the international side were surprising, considering the current economic climate in terms of the across the board U.S. tax increase and the federal budget sequester serving as headwinds. But even with those obstacles, IANA observed that West Coast port import numbers were strong in the first quarter, adding that rail intermodal has a higher share on the West Coast.
“Our original estimates of 2 percent growth in international volumes were exceeded based on stronger than expected consumer spending, resolution of some lingering labor uncertainty and higher than anticipated inventory restocking,” Casey said.
IMC (Intermodal Marketing Company) intermodal and highway revenue for the first quarter—at $813,483,382 and $187,533,645—were up 3.5 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively. Total revenue—at $1,001,017,027—was up 2.0 percent. Average revenue per intermodal load—at $2,637—was up 1.3 percent and average revenue per highway load—at $2,613—was up 11.6 percent, and average revenue per highway load—at $1,442—was down 0.2 percent.
Total first quarter IMC loads—at 438,438—were down 4.3 percent, with intermodal loads down 6.4 percent at 308,479 and highway loads up 1.1 percent at 129,959.
The report explained that growth levels for IMCs were modest compared to the first quarter of 2012, adding that for the first time since the third quarter of 2011 intermodal volume growth lagged overall domestic intermodal growth, adding less than half the gain posted for the total sector.
“First quarter IMC intermodal volume numbers are basically a victim of timing,” explained Casey. “There were less days in quarterly cycle this year, coupled with the timing of Asian New Year impacting West Coast transloads. There was also a shift between IMC intermodal loads and IMC highway/broker loads, and while volumes may be off, revenues in each category exceeded last year’s numbers for the same quarter. We expect IMC business to follow in line with overall domestic intermodal volumes.”
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