IANA reports Q4 and full-year 2018 gains

For all of 2019, total intermodal volume increased 5.6% annually to 18,931,323. ISO again led the way, rising 5.4%

Fourth quarter and full-year 2018 intermodal volumes posted annual gains, according to the most recent edition of the Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics Report, which was released today by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

Total fourth quarter intermodal volume movements, at 4,799,714, posted a 4.2% annual gain, which was in line with the third quarter’s 4.7% annual increase but down compared to 7.2% and 6.2% annual gains in the first and second quarters, respectively.

ISO, or international containers, at 2,414,641, rose 5.5% annually in the fourth quarter, and domestic containers, at 2,012,888, saw a 3.4% annual gain. Trailers slipped 0.1% to 372,185.

For all of 2019, total intermodal volume increased 5.6% annually to 18,931,323. ISO again led the way, rising 5.4% to 9,558,448 for a new all-time record, and domestic containers, at 7,928,304, were up 4.9%. Despite the dip in the fourth quarter, trailers increased 10.6% to 1,444,571.

IANA noted in the report that the 5.6% annual gain represents the strongest annual growth rate in five years with all gains viewed as substantial and broad-based and all growth in all North American regions up by at least 4.9%. 

While domestic volumes were up 6.1% over the first half of 2018, IANA said the growth rate over the second half, at 3.7%. IANA said that tight trucking capacity may be the reason that domestic containers saw higher growth earlier in the year.

IANA President and CEO Joni Casey told LM that 2018 total volumes, for the most part, met IANA’s expectations, noting that “month-to-month volumes didn’t follow more traditional shipping patterns, probably due to the pull-forward of Chinese imports.”

When asked how much of a factor the theme of often-limited truckload capacity on total volume was, she explained that domestic volume gains were the result of tighter over-the-road capacity, but imports represented a bigger driver in volumes.

Looking at the annual gains for domestic container growth, along with tighter highway capacity and the impact of electronic logging device (ELD) regulations, Casey said that the overall economy in 2019 was consistently strong, adding that fuel costs also had some impact at different times throughout the year.

Looking ahead to 2019, Casey said she is anticipating comparable growth to 2018, with a caveat, though.

“The mix between international and domestic may shift, however, as freight that has been warehoused on the West Coast is distributed inland,” she said. “Of course, trade policy has become a wild card these days and can cause unpredictable impacts.”

The IANA report observed that there is also some risk from potential trade wars, the possibility of another government shutdown, and a very tight labor market, too. And it also noted that trucking capacity, which is a major factor for intermodal growth, is not expected to be as tight as it was in 2018. What’s more, going back to the 2016 freight recession, IANA said that the intermodal market has increased at a rate of nearly 5% per year.

As for international in 2019, IANA observed that this segment is viewed as unpredictable, due to the potential impacts of tariffs on Chinese imports, which it said could lower international volume for a period, even though it is likely that if those tariffs are implemented, production will shift from China to other overseas countries rather than back to the U.S., which it said will keep international strong long-term. Barring a trade war, IANA said international volume is expected to head up 2-3% in 2019.  

Article Topics
IANA   Intermodal   Intermodal Association of North America   All topics

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About the Author
Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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