Green shoots are not yet showing up in cargo statistics. Let’s take a look starting with AAR: Rail freight traffic down from a year ago.

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads during the week ended May 23 remained down in comparison with last year, although it did show an increase from the previous week this year, the Association of American Railroads reported today.

U.S. railroads originated 259,265 cars during the week, down 21.5 percent from the comparison week in 2008, but up 4.9 percent from the previous week this year. In comparison with last year, loadings were down 16.4 percent in the West and 28.0 percent in the East.

All 19 carload commodity groups were down from last year, with declines ranging from 4.8 percent for farm products other than grain to 59.7 percent for metallic ores.

Intermodal volume of 188,885 trailers or containers was off 19.1 percent from last year, with container volume down 14.2 percent and trailer traffic off 37.2 percent. Intermodal volume was up 0.2 percent from the previous week this year.

For the first 20 weeks of 2009, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 5,295,843 carloads, down 19.3 percent from 2008; 3,720,454 trailers or containers, down 16.8 percent; and total volume of an estimated 562.0 billion ton-miles, down 18.2 percent.

Canadian railroads reported volume of 53,316 cars for the week, down 33.5 percent from last year, and 37,052 trailers or containers, down 18.9 percent. For the first 20 weeks of 2009, Canadian railroads reported cumulative volume of 1,193,070 carloads, down 23.4 percent from last year; and 810,785 trailers or containers, down 14.5 percent.

Mexican railroads reported originated volume of 13,102 cars, virtually the same as last year, and 5,188 trailers or containers, down 18.8 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 20 weeks of 2009 was reported as 219,541 carloads, down 12.3 percent from last year; and 95,217 trailers or containers, down 19.8 percent.

Combined North American rail volume for the first 20 weeks of 2009 on 14 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 6,708,454 carloads, down 19.9 percent from last year, and 4,626,456 trailers and containers, down 16.4 percent from last year.

Rail Carloading Report

The Weekly Railfax Rail Carloading Report has the hollowing charts of interest.

Total Industry Charts, US, Canada, Mexico

Additional charts show numbers up from earlier in the year. However the charts also show a seasonal dip at the beginning of the year.

Is truck freight bottom close?

Fleet Owner is asking Is truck freight bottom close?

Freight tonnage fell again in April, according to numbers released by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), indicating that trucking companies are still facing lean times.

The ATA said its seasonally adjusted for-hire truck tonnage index fell 2.2% in April, after plunging 4.5% percent in March. Compared with April 2008, tonnage contracted 13.2%, which was the worst year-over-year decrease of the current cycle and the largest drop in thirteen years, said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist.

“While most key economic indicators are decreasing at a slower rate, the year-over-year contractions in truck tonnage accelerated because businesses are right-sizing their inventories, which means fewer truck shipments,” he explained. “The absolute dollar value of inventories has fallen, but sales have decreased as much or more, which means that inventories are still too high for the current level of sales. Until this correction is complete, freight will be tough for motor carriers.” Costello added that truck freight has yet to hit bottom and it could be a few more months before this occurs.

However, Eric Starks, president of research firm FTR Associates, pointed out that while the freight market might not have bottomed out as of yet, it’s very close to doing so. “We still think we’ll reach that bottom around the middle of summer,” he told FleetOwner.

The “million dollar question” from Stark’s perspective is how long the freight market will stay at the bottom. “Even once we reach the bottom, [trucking companies] are not out of the woods. We could sit with some very depressed freight levels for some time,” he cautioned.

Air cargo at a bottom?

The International Air Transport Association says air cargo market probably hit bottom.

A decline in the air cargo freight market following the international financial crisis seems to have hit bottom, the head of the International Air Transport Association said on Sunday. Air cargo, a key barometer of world trade, has slumped amid the global economic downturn and shortage of financing. Global air freight volumes in January saw a record 23 percent year-on-year dive.

“I would say, looking at the numbers, that it has hit bottom,” the global association’s Director-General Giovanni Bisignani told Reuters.
Bisignani said the market had at least been stabilising at levels around 20 percent lower than a year ago.

“It’s not yet enough to say that the situation is picking up because this is also linked with the level of inventories of the manufacturers. So we have to wait at least another 3 or 4 months in order to see if we start moving.”

Rebound Questionable

Shipping may have bottomed, but as long as the economy is losing 500,000 jobs a month and housing is still in a decline, any rebound will be anemic at best.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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