Double-digit percentage gains for international intermodal container volume is helping boost overall U.S. intermodal traffic as the supply chain responds to strong e-commerce activity.
According to FreightWaves SONAR, the 22% year-over-year increase in U.S container volume over the last week was propelled largely by gains in international intermodal volume. International intermodal volume (right chart) rose 44% year-over-year, while domestic intermodal volume (left chart) rose 3% during the same time frame.
The data represents seven-day moving averages.
International intermodal volumes are getting a boost from e-commerce and restocking. Indeed, the National Retail Federation (NRF) this week raised its forecast for first-half 2021 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) landing at major container ports in the U.S. to 23.3% year-over-year.
Final January numbers showed TEUs came in 13% higher year-over-year at 2.06 million, the busiest January in the dataset’s nearly 20-year history, FreightWaves reported.
“NRF is forecasting what could turn out to be record retail sales growth in 2021, and retailers are importing huge amounts of merchandise to meet the demand,” Jonathan Gold, NRF’s VP of supply chain and customs policy, said Monday in a release. “The supply chain slowdown we usually see after the holiday season never really happened this winter, and imports are already starting to grow again.”
Also earlier this week, Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) equity research analyst Allison Poliniak-Cusic raised her price targets on intermodal providers Hub Group (NASDAQ: HUBG) and J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT) amid intermodal’s growing share in the U.S. freight market.
U.S. carload, intermodal volumes up last week
Meanwhile, volume data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) also reflect the gains in U.S. intermodal traffic.
For the week ending Saturday, U.S. intermodal volumes rose 21.5% from the same period in 2020 to 282,641 containers and trailers. On a year-to-date basis, intermodal traffic is up 8.6% to 2.47 million intermodal units.
But U.S. carloads also rose last week, marking the first year-over-year gain on a weekly basis in months. Carload volume totaled 232,494 last week, a 1.1% gain from the same week in 2020.
Carloads got a boost from coal, which was up 11.8% to 65,632 carloads, and from grain, which rose 27.2% to 26,451 carloads. The higher coal volumes may be due to utilities seeking to replenish their stockpiles ahead of the summer and after the bitter cold of February, while continued export demand is helping drive grain carloads higher.