The latest data from the AAR on rail traffic continues to point to a softening overall trend in the economy.  They reported another substantial decline in carloads while intermodal continued its trend lower, but remains positive at +1.6% year over year.  The breadth of the data is also increasingly weak so it’s not all coal at this point.  Just 12 of the 20 commodity groups were up compared to last year.   The 10 week moving average softened to 1.4% from 2.9% last week.  Clearly, the trend is lower, but still positive.  Consistent, in my opinion, with a muddle through economy.  Here’s more from AAR:

“The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported mixed weekly rail traffic for the week ending April 14, 2012, with U.S. railroads originating 276,789 carloads, down 6.4 percent compared with the same week last year. Intermodal volume for the week totaled 234,157 trailers and containers, up 1.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Twelve of the 20 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2011, with petroleum products, up 39 percent; metallic ores, up 16.7 percent, and motor vehicles and equipment, up 15.3 percent. The groups showing a significant decrease in weekly traffic included farm products excluding grain, down 28.1 percent; coal, down 18.2 percent, and grain, down 16.3 percent.

Weekly carload volume on Eastern railroads was down 2 percent compared with the same week last year. In the West, weekly carload volume was down 9.4 percent compared with the same week in 2011.

For the first 15 weeks of 2012, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,226,853 carloads, down 3.1 percent from the same point last year, and 3,393,755 trailers and containers, up 2.4 percent from last year.”


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Cullen Roche

Mr. Roche is the Founder of Orcam Financial Group, LLC. Orcam is a financial services firm offering research, private advisory, institutional consulting and educational services.

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  • Andrew P

    Does similar data exist for Europe?

  • Conscience of a Conservative

    Lots going on here. And a couple of thoughts. First a number of the railroad stocks came out with good earnings, so the question of lag comes to mind. Second coal’s been weak for a while which could be a reaction to natural gas pricing. I just can’t figure out the farm products which should not be that economically sensitive.

    On a somewhat tangential note the increase in car shipments may not be sustainable. The amount of subprime auto loans has really taken off. It’s no accident that regulation on auto loans was excluded from Dodd Frank. 20% rates 5-7 year auto loans, sometimes going for used vehicles too.

  • Mr. Market

    Recession any one ?????