July intermodal volumes see some gains, reports IANA

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · August 17, 2020

July intermodal volumes posted some solid annual gains, with year-to-date volumes down, due largely to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data provided to LM by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

Total July shipments—at 1,526,490—were off 1.8% annually. Domestic containers—at 692,122—were up 11%, while trailers—at 107,728—were up 10.8%. All domestic equipment—at 799,400—was up 11%. ISO, or international, containers—at 727,090—saw a 12.8% decline.

On a year-to-date basis through July, IANA reported the following:

domestic containers fell 0.5% to 4,297,589;

trailers were down 15% to 624,835;

all domestic equipment was off 2.6% to 4,922,424;

ISO containers declined 13.3% to 4,798,954; and

total units were down 8.2%, to 9,721,378

Last month, in its second quarter report, IANA that second quarter intermodal volumes—at 4,016,899 units—fell 11.9% annually. Domestic containers—at 1,742,968—slipped 7.0%, with trailers—at 259,752—falling 14.0%All domestic equipment—at 2,002,720—was off 8.0%. ISO, or international, containers, were down 15.4%, to 2,014,179.

The 11.9% annual decline is steeper than the first quarter’s 6.7% annual decline, based on IANA data. And the organization explained that the quarters were different, in that there was what it called a change in trend in the domestic container market and the slowing losses in the trailer market, from the first quarter to the second quarter. IANA President and CEO Joni Casey noted that the primary driver for trailer volume improvement is the increased level of e-commerce, which typically moves in trailers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic makes forecasting the intermodal market difficult to predict,” the report stated. “Total quarterly intermodal losses are not expected to exceed Q2’s steep decline of 11.9%. It 
is likely that international intermodal will fall between 10% 
and 15% during the rest of 2020. Falling U.S. imports due to COVID-19 shutdowns and high tariffs will continue to drag down international volume throughout the rest of 2020. Domestic containers are also expected to fall between 10% and 15%. Domestic containers decline over 2020 can be linked to an upsurge in trucking competition and a drop in transloading due to falling imports. Trailers were struggling before the onset of COVID-19 in North America, but are now expected to fall even further due to an increase in conversions to containers. Overall, total intermodal loadings are forecast to fall about 10% for all of 2020.”

When asked what a sustained modest increase demand would mean for intermodal, from a volume perspective, and if it could result in increased share from the trucking side, IANA President and CEO Joni Casey pointed out that consistent increased demand in both international and domestic freight moves will afford the potential for higher intermodal volumes.

“And if highway capacity starts to tighten, this could also push freight to intermodal,” she said. “However, lower fuel prices, which currently exist, create some advantages for OTR moves.”

August 17, 2020