Rail Week Ending Saturday, Jan. 19: Economic Intuitive Sectors Strong

Week 3 of 2019 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 continue their improving trend.

Analyst Opinion of the Rail Data

Rail is saying the economy is improving.

We review this data set to understand the economy. The intuitive sectors (total carloads removing coal, grain, and petroleum) expanded 7.7 % year-over-year for this week. We primarily use rolling averages to analyze the intuitive data due to weekly volatility - and the 4 week rolling year-over-year average for the intuitive sectors improved from +4.3% to +6.1 %.

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 over the 12 months.

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 the 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 +6.2 % decelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average +2.8 % decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average +2.8 % accelerating accelerating

A summary for this week from the AAR:

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 543,111 carloads and intermodal units, up 6.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending January 19 were 258,833 carloads, up 7.4 percent compared with the same week in 2018, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 284,278 containers and trailers, up 6.5 percent compared to 2018.

Eight of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2018. They included coal, up 5,554 carloads, to 87,906; nonmetallic minerals, up 3,614 carloads, to 29,994; and petroleum and petroleum products, up 3,151 carloads, to 13,710. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2018 were grain, down 415 carloads, to 22,913; and farm products excl. grain, and food, down 370 carloads, to 15,357.

For the first three weeks of 2019, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 746,832 carloads, up 8.1 percent from the same point last year; and 787,509 intermodal units, up 5.7 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first three weeks of 2019 was 1,534,341 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 6.9 percent compared to last year.

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