PRESENTING: Our favourite Economic Report In The World

train rail

Photo: Drew Jacksich, Flickr

It’s obvious that we get pretty excited about the monthly jobs report around here — especially when the numbers are awesome like they were on Friday.But while employment may be the most important aspect of the economy, it’s still only one part of the picture.

So we’d like to introduce you to our favourite economic report of the month: The Rail Time Indicators Report from the Association of American Railroads.

Every month the AAR puts out a 36-page report detailing headline rail volume (how many carloads there were in the month) and also rail activity by specific sector: Grains, petroleum products, car parts, coal, and gravel, and so on.

And what makes it even cooler is that the report does a great job discussing the broader economic picture, and how the rail data fits into it. It really is a fantastic read.

January 2012 was slightly better than 2011, but WAY below January 2006.

On a year over year basis, rail carload growth was just 0.1%, way slower than the month before.

Here's a look at coal volume. It's actually below January of last year.

But check out the big picture of coal demand. One word: Asia.

Another mediocre area: Chemicals. Volumes actually shrunk

Grain demand has actually been shrinking for a while, though according to AAR, it doesn't align with GDP very well

Excluding coal and grain, the overall picture looks a lot better.

Petroleum growth is out of this world.

In fact, this was the best January ever. Part of this is due to the domestic oil revolution. But also it's a result of the lack of domestic pipeline infrastructure.

Crushed stone -- an excellent economic proxy due to its connection with construction -- is growing nicely

Another way of seeing the strong crushed stone growth.

Motor vehicle numbers also growing nicely

Lumber is also growing nicely. Note how long it had been shrinking in 2006 through 2009.

Here's a look at total rail traffic vs. GDP.

For some perspective outside of rail, the AAR offers a look at total end demand, which was mediocre last quarter.

Here's a look at rail (ex-coal and grain) vs. manufacturing output.

Rail vs. Industrial production

Railroad employment.

Oh, and here's an up to date chart of light vehicle sales, which or topping a 14.1 million annualized rate as of January

Another perspective on autos: More acceleration.

And finally: Rail shipments of lumber vs. housing.

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