As was the case in January, intermodal volumes again saw across-the-board declines in February, according to data provided to LM by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).
Total February volume—at 1,248,569 units—fell 7.3% annually. Trailers—at 61,211—saw a 27.6% annual decline, and domestic containers—at 611,460—were down 4.3%. All domestic equipment, which is comprised of trailers and domestic containers, were down 7.0%, to 672,671. ISO, or international, containers—at 575,898—dropped 7.6%.
Through the first two months of 2023, IANA reported that total volume—at 2,566,892 units—is off 6.1% compared to the same period a year ago. Trailers—at 126,626—are down 27.9%, and domestic containers—at 1,238,512—are off 4.3%. All domestic equipment—at 1,365,138—fell 7.1%. And ISO containers—at 1,201,754—saw a 4.9% decrease.
IANA President and CEO Joni Casey told LM that intermodal faced tough annual comparisons in January.
“The Lunar New Year was more of a factor this year versus last year, when congestion in San Pedro Bay kept import-driven volume artificially high,” she said. “Reduced consumer demand and the shift in spending from goods to services are longer-term trends that have affected imports and intermodal volumes for most of the past twelve months.”
When asked how much of a factor the unresolved West Coast port labor negotiations are having on current volume levels, Casey observed that West Coast port directors agree that the labor negotiations are affecting volumes, but it's tough to determine how much of an actual impact they are having.
“February import numbers suggested that diversions are stabilizing, We're in an overall freight environment that is challenging. Intermodal loadings were fewer year-over-year in eleven of the past twelve months, and ports on all coasts have seen some slowing in TEUs processed in recent months. Resolution of the West Coast situation would benefit intermodal, but to what degree is still a question.” - Joni Casey, IANA President
Addressing ISO volumes, Casey said that the easing of Covid policies in China has not been enough to overcome the headwinds facing intermodal so far this year, and year-over-year comparisons will remain difficult thru at least the second quarter.
“Also, the shift in consumer spending to services will continue to drive competition between intermodal and OTR trucking,” she said.