One of our favorite economic data series, the AAR weekly traffic report, was released today, and even as the data moves ever further from the Lehman anniversary when the economy presumably went into a standstill, the October 24th data still demonstrates a healthy -14.8 weekly YoY drop, and a little changed -18% YTD drop compared to the prior week's -18.2%. Interestingly, the AAR is commencing to show not just year over year data, but year over two years (YoTW?) going forward, ala what CNBC is trying to do to deemphasize the drop off in their audiences. Although while CNBC's 2008 spike was beneficial, the AAR will effectively be focusing on the major drop from an "old normal" economy. This kind of unbiased objectivity and benchmarking should raise red flags all around.
Here is the official press release from the AAR:
AAR Reports Railroads Continue to Post Weak Carload, Intermodal Numbers
Expanded Report Includes Comparison Week for 2007 and 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 29, 2009 — The Association of American Railroads today reported that rail traffic remains down year over year for the week ended Oct. 24, 2009. U.S railroads reported originating 276,357 carloads, down 14.8 percent compared with the same week in 2008 and 17.3 percent from 2007. It was around this time last year notable declines in rail carloads and rail intermodal traffic showed the first significant signs of the nation’s economic downturn. Therefore, the AAR will be reporting 2009 weekly rail traffic with year over comparisons for both 2008 and 2007 going forward.
In the West, carloads were down 14.8 percent compared with the same week last year, and 15.8 percent compared with 2007. In the East, carloads were down 14.8 compared with 2008, and 19.4 percent compared with the same week in 2007.
Intermodal traffic totaled 207,401 trailers or containers, down 10.1 percent from a year ago and 14.5 percent from 2007. Compared with the same week last year, container volume fell 3.6 percent and trailer volume dropped 34.7 percent. Compared with the same week in 2007, container volume fell 7.4 percent and trailer volume dropped 40.1 percent.
While 17 of the 19 carload freight commodity groups were down from the same week last year, grain mill products were up 9.6 percent and grain was up 6.2 percent compared with the same week in 2008. Declines in commodity groups ranged from 1.9 percent for chemicals to 66.1 percent for metallic ores.
Total volume on U.S. railroads for the week ending October 24, 2009 was estimated at 31.1 billion ton-miles, down 13.4 percent compared with the same week last year and 11.1 percent from 2007.
For the first 42 weeks of 2009, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 11,207,180 carloads, down 18 percent from 2008 and 18.3 percent from 2007; 7,969,780 trailers or containers, down 16.4 percent from 2008 and 18.3 percent from 2007, and total volume of an estimated 1.2 trillion ton-miles, down 17.1 percent from 2008 and 15 percent from 2007.
Canadian railroads reported volume of 71,097 cars for the week, down 9.9 percent from last year, and 44,849 trailers or containers, down 13 percent from 2008. For the first 42 weeks of 2009, Canadian railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,585,690 carloads, down 21.4 percent from last year, and 1,720,890 trailers or containers, down 15.9 percent.
Mexican railroads reported originated volume of 12,447 cars, down 2 percent from the same week last year, and 7,412 trailers or containers, down 6.5 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 42 weeks of 2009 was reported as 481,056 carloads, down 12.6 percent from last year; and 225,008 trailers or containers, down 17.5 percent.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 42 weeks of 2009 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 14,273,926 carloads, down 18.4 percent from last year, and 9,915,678 trailers and containers, down 16.3 percent from last year.
Attached also is the useful monthly real time indicators report, which provides a handy summary of the relevant monthly themes and trends in the railroad business. In a nutshell - if Burlington Northern is claiming the coast is clear, they are full of it.