The trend in North American freight volumes continues to follow the path of general malaise that the economy is experiencing. The number of freight shipments in June was up a scant 1.3 percent from the previous month, while at the same time total freight costs declined 0.1 percent. The economy has been flat for several months and is even beginning to trend downward in terms of new orders and manufacturing output.
This slowdown on manufactured goods is putting downward pressure on freight. Calendar year‐to‐date figures show growth for the first half of the year: 9.9 percent on shipment volume and 7.7 percent on total freight expenditures. But compared to the same period a year ago, 2012 growth is significantly slower, as shipment volumes in 2011 were up 15.5 percent from 2010.
The trend in freight shipments continued upward for the year, although volume compared to June of last year was down 1.3 percent. For the second quarter, the number of freight movements is only 0.3 percent higher than in the second quarter of 2011, and down from a first quarter increase of 1.8 percent. Truck shipments are mostly flat, despite strong growth in movements of seasonal produce and oil shale fracking products.
The tight supply appears to be due more to a contraction in fleet and driver size than to an increase in demand. The trucking industry is barely balancing demand and supply in this weak freight market, so it might take just a small increase in demand for more wide‐spread capacity problems to arise. Tonnage for 2012 has been uneven and reflects little growth for the first half of the year.
The railroad intermodal segment has shown year‐to‐date growth of 3.2 percent, while carloadings are down 9.3 percent. The Association of American Railroads reports that as of June 1, more than 20 percent of the freight car fleet is in storage and that this percentage has been rising for eight straight months.
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