Freight tonmiles jump 0.8% in June
July 24, 2012
The June freight level for all modes (truck, rail, barge, pipeline, air) jumped 0.8% versus last month following a small drop of 0.1% in May. The U.S. moved 513.9 billion tonmiles worth of goods in June. Freight tonmiles were essentially unchanged compared to last year after several months of negative readings. A large portion of the weakness in early 2012 was due to the effects of coal. That sector looks to have at least bottomed, if not showing signs of rebounding.
Freight tonmiles bottomed out in the second quarter of 2009 and didn’t start growing again until the first quarter of 2010. The year-over-year decline peaked at -10.8% in 2009Q2. It then turned positive in 2010Q2 and peaked at 7.9% in 2010Q4. The middle of 2011 saw weakness, with 1% quarter-over-quarter declines in Q2 and Q3, but rebounded strongly in Q4, up 2%. The first quarter of 2012 fell once more but not quite as hard as during the middle of last year, down 0.4%. The lackluster results carried over into Q2 with another 0.7% quarter-over-quarter decline. Volumes have been essentially flat on a year-over-year basis for the last four quarters.
Coal movements by rail dropped drastically this winter on a combination of high stockpiles and mild weather. Coal generally accounts for more than a quarter of all rail loadings and on a tonmile basis it is clearly the most moved single commodity of any freight mode. That sector looks to have at least bottomed, if not showing signs of rebounding.
Despite the better-than-anticipated showing in June our forecast is essentially unchanged with the expectation of modest growth resuming during the second half of the year. The year-over-year comparisons should improve during the second half of the year but they are unlikely to get back to the 5%+ levels achieved back in 2010 and early 2011. While remaining more resilient than the overall economy, the freight sector did show some sluggishness during 2011, but we still feel confident about achieving growth later in 2012.
After dropping 8.8% in 2009 and rebounding 4.1% in 2010, growth slowed in 2011, up 1.9%. Tonmiles will essentially stall out in 2012, up just 0.2%. The growth rates for 2013 and 2014 show modest improvement, growing 1.7% and 1.6%, respectively.
A tonmile is one ton moved one mile. It is useful for comparing freight movements between all the modes of transport (truck, rail, barge, pipeline, air).
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