Rail Week Ending Saturday, Dec. 29: Rail Counts Up 2.9% In December And 3.7% For 2018

Week 52 of 2018 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The economically intuitive sectors rolling averages improved and returned to positive territory this week.

Analyst Opinion of the Rail Data

The overall rate of rail growth in 2018 has slowly decelerating - although this final week in 2018 saw increased growth. As a summary for 2018 - the rate of growth slowed relative to the first half of the year.

We review this data set to understand the economy. If coal, grain and petroleum are removed from the analysis for carloads, this week it expanded 2.6 % year-over-year. We primarily use rolling averages the analyze the data due to weekly volatility - and the 4 week rolling average for the intuitive sectors remain in contraction year-over-year but improved from -0.8% to +0.2 %.

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 and grew 1.8 % YoY this week - and the rate of growth trend has been slowing.

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 +2.6 % decelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average +1.2 % decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average +2.3 % accelerating accelerating
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