Intermodal volumes are strong to finish 2017, reports IANA

Date: Friday, February 2, 2018
Source: Logistics Management

Both fourth quarter and full-year 2017 intermodal volumes turned in strong performances, according to data in the most recent edition of the Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics Report, which was released today by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

Total fourth quarter intermodal volume movements-at 4,607,656-rose 5.8% annually, which, was down from the third quarter’s annual 6.3% gain and ahead of 2% and 4.5% gains from the first and second quarters, respectively.

Leading all intermodal categories in the fourth quarter were domestic containers, which saw a 2.5% annual gain to 1,946,313. International, or ISO, containers increased 2.5% to 1,946,313, and trailers climbed 12.2% to 372,587.  

Even though the rate of annual growth in the fourth quarter paled compared to the third quarter, IANA said that the “underlying numbers suggest that the picture was actually brighter than it had been all year,” noting that in the second and third quarter increased were supported by weaker comparisons, as the second and third quarters of 2016 were both down.

And it added that fourth quarter domestic container growth was sluggish, with ISO and trailers’ strong gains helping to boost overall growth.

ISO’s 7.7% annual gain topped U.S. container imports for the quarter, which were up 2.9%, as well as U.S. international container imports that rose 4.5%. IANA explained that this indicates international is keeping pace with container imports and is also recovering some of the share it lost in 2016.

For all of 2017, IANA reported that total volume was up 4.7% compared to 2016 at 17,935,309/ Domestic containers were up 2.7% at 7,561,472, and trailers rose 6.4% to 1,306,282. All domestic equipment was up 3.2 percent at 8,867,754, and ISO containers increased 6.2% to 9,067,555.

“The overall 2017 growth rates were close to what we have been predicting,” said IANA President and CEO Joni Casey in an interview. “Domestic container volumes for both the quarter and the year were slightly less than what had been expected.  The primary reason for this was the higher level of over-the-road capacity for most of 2017.”

When asked if 2017 was a “down” year for domestic containers, Casey explained that even though she would not characterize 2017 as a “down” year for domestic containers, growth rates were slightly lower than expected and what had been exhibited over the last several years. She added that this can be attributed to stiff competition from the highway segment and strong comparisons from 2016.

As for international activity and its strong finish in 2017, she pointed out strong imports accounted for international intermodal volumes during the year.  Other factors Casey cited were increased consumer spending, and the fact that there had been a divergence between imports and international loads during 2016.

The impressive percentage gain in trailers could continue to remain on a strong growth path in 2017, and if the level of e-commerce continues or grows, intermodal trailer volumes may very well continue their growth spur, with a contributing factor being the increasing tightness in highway capacity.

As for 2018’s overall growth prospects, Casey was positive.

“Intermodal is posed to have another solid year - and expectations point to marginally higher growth levels over 2017, in both the international and domestic markets,” she said. “Solid economic growth, increased import levels, rising fuel costs and tightening over the road capacity (driven in part by driver shortages and the impacts of ELD requirements) are all contributors to anticipated and continued intermodal growth in 2018.”

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