• ITVI.USA
    15,378.070
    -88.350
    -0.6%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.743
    0.001
    0%
  • OTRI.USA
    20.820
    0.290
    1.4%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,350.040
    -89.040
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.280
    -0.020
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.190
    0.050
    1.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.560
    -0.030
    -1.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.420
    0.090
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.220
    0.050
    2.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.080
    0.000
    0%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
    0.8%
  • ITVI.USA
    15,378.070
    -88.350
    -0.6%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.743
    0.001
    0%
  • OTRI.USA
    20.820
    0.290
    1.4%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,350.040
    -89.040
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.280
    -0.020
    -0.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.190
    0.050
    1.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.560
    -0.030
    -1.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.420
    0.090
    2.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.220
    0.050
    2.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.080
    0.000
    0%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    1.000
    0.8%
IntermodalNewsRail

North American intermodal volumes climbed nearly 10% in Q4: IANA

Intermodal volumes rose amid record U.S. holiday sales of $789.4 billion in November and December

North American intermodal volumes gained nearly 10% in the fourth quarter of 2020, setting the pace for the first quarter of 2021, according to the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

“Intermodal continued its comeback in the fourth quarter after declines in the first half of the year. Against the backdrop of COVID, all market sectors posted gains, setting the pace into at least Q1 of 2021,” said IANA President and CEO Joni Casey. IANA estimates that 2021 intermodal volumes could grow by 8% after falling by 2% in 2020 because of COVID-19 pandemic-induced volume losses in the first half of 2020.

Intermodal volumes increased by 9.6% in the fourth quarter year-over-year. Of those gains, domestic containers rose 8.7%, international shipments grew 9.4% and trailers jumped 17.5%.

Trade corridors across Canada and across western markets experienced significant growth year-over-year. Of the seven highest-density trade corridors, which handle more than 60% of total volume, three were up by double-digit percentages: Trans-Canada rose 19.7%; South Central-Southwest, 13.4%; and Midwest-Southwest, 13%. 

Indeed, higher transloading activity from the West Coast to inland was a major factor driving domestic container growth, IANA said in its quarterly report.

Meanwhile, the Intra-Southeast corridor increased 9.6%; Northeast-Midwest, 9.5%; Midwest-Northwest, 7.5%; and Southeast-Southwest, 2.4%.

IANA also reported that the total volume of the international marketing companies (IMCs) rose 17.2% in the fourth quarter, with intermodal and highway loads up 13.1% and 20%, respectively. 

Double-digit import increases, strong consumer spending activity and inventory restocking were among the factors that helped North American intermodal volumes in the second half of 2020, according to IANA.

U.S. volumes of intermodal containers (RTOIC.CLASSI, in blue) and intermodal trailers (RTOIT.CLASSI, in green) on a relative basis from Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2020. (FreightWaves SONAR)

The U.S. experienced record holiday season retail sales during the last two months of 2020, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Consumer emotions, plus promising indicators showing an economic recovery, may have contributed to holiday spending levels of $789.4 billion in November and December, NRF estimated.

That record amount was 8.3% higher than November-December 2019 and the highest growth rate since 2004’s 6.8%.

The total also includes $209 billion on online or nonstore sales. This share was up by 23.9% year-over-year, and it represented 26.5% of total holiday sales in 2020, NRF said. 

“This was not a typical holiday season and it took place amid an unprecedented shopping landscape … . Household emotions likely played into holiday economic decisions as consumers wanting to offset the anxiety and stress experienced during 2020 spent on gifts to enjoy a better-than-normal holiday,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz in a Monday release. 

“This was clearly a year when animal spirits outweighed conventional wisdom,” Kleinhenz said, alluding to a phrase coined by early 20th century English economist John Maynard Keynes.

Economic factors that might have swayed higher consumer spending levels included more disposable income from not dining out, traveling or attending entertainment events; rising home values and stock prices; and the start of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, NRF said. 

“Even as it became too late for reliable delivery of online orders in late December, many consumers still ordered online but took advantage of in-store and curbside pickup services retailers had perfected over the previous several months,” NRF said.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related articles:

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West Coast intermodal spot market still strong despite falling rates

Grain, intermodal boost US weekly rail volumes

J.B. Hunt warns intermodal margin target may be reduced

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.

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