One Of The Best Economic Indicators There Is Flashing A Warning Sign

The latest monthly and weekly report from the AAR showed more signs of a sluggish economy.  The latest weekly data turned negative once again with carloads posting a -4.1% decline and intermodal posting a gain of 5.5%.   The 10 week moving average in intermodal moved slightly higher to 3.1%.   The AAR has details on the monthly and weekly report:

“The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail carloads originated in April 2012 totaled 1,113,105, down 64,335 carloads or 5.5 per cent, compared with April 2011. Intermodal volume in April 2012 was 946,951 trailers and containers, up 32,505 units or up 3.6 per cent, compared with April 2011. Detailed monthly data charts and tables will be available in the AAR’s Rail Time Indicators released online tomorrow.

Twelve of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains in April 2012 compared with April 2011, including petroleum and petroleum products, up 11,376 carloads, or 43.1 per cent; motor vehicle and parts, up 11,360 carloads, or 21.1 per cent; crushed stone, gravel, and sand, up 6,617 carloads, or 9.3 per cent, and steel and other primary metal products, up 3,297 carloads, or 8.1 per cent.

Commodities with carload declines in April were led by coal, down 85,719 carloads, or 16.6 per cent compared with April 2011. This was coal’s biggest year-over-year percentage decline in rail traffic on record.  Other commodities with declines included grain, down 16,402 carloads, or 17.2 per cent; iron and steel scrap, down 1,067 carloads, or 5.3 per cent, and farm products excluding grain, down 448 carloads, or 12.9 per cent. Carloads excluding coal and grain were up 37,786 carloads, or 6.7 per cent.

“In 2011, U.S. freight railroads reinvested more than ever before in the national rail network, because they know America’s manufacturers, farmers, and resource producers need to move freight safely and cost effectively to continue to grow in the years ahead,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. grey. “Month-to-month trends may vary, but the long-term demand for rail service will certainly rise.”

Class I railroad employment in March was up by 1,295 employees from February 2012 to 160,523, its highest level since December 2008. Total Class I employment in March was up by 4,681 employees, or 3 per cent, compared with March 2011. About two-thirds of the increase in rail employment in March was due to an increase in maintenance of way and structures employees.  These are signalmen, track gangs, and others who build and maintain track, bridges, signal systems, etc.

As of May 1, 2012, 307,957 freight cars were in storage, an increase of 8,633 from April 1, 2012, and equal to 20.1 per cent of the North American fleet.  Total cars in storage have increased for five straight months.

AAR today also reported mixed weekly rail traffic for the week ending April 28, 2012, with U.S. railroads originating 283,080 carloads, down 4.1 per cent compared with the same week last year. Intermodal volume for the week totaled 242,365 trailers and containers, up 5.5 per cent compared with the same week last year.

Eleven of the 20 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2011, with petroleum products, up 51.9 per cent; motor vehicles and equipment, up 29.1 per cent, and crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 24.2. The groups showing a decrease in weekly traffic included grain, down 18 per cent; coal, down 16.2 per cent, and waste and nonferrous scrap, down 10.5 per cent.

Weekly carload volume on Eastern railroads was down 0.8 per cent compared with the same week last year. In the West, weekly carload volume was down 6.3 per cent compared with the same week in 2011.

For the first 17 weeks of 2012, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,792,195 carloads, down 3.2 per cent from the same point last year, and 3,875,396 trailers and containers, up 2.8 per cent from last year.”

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