A national average intermodal spot rate of $2.56 per mile last week fell $0.10 (-3.8%). The drop came off of an all-time high in our data series of $2.66 last week. Fundamentals such as strong containerized imports and tight capacity on the rails, especially on the West Coast, are intact.
Operational issues like widespread bottlenecks caused by high volumes, lack of space, imbalanced container flows and labor shortages have no easy fix and will take time to solve. In the past month or two, intermodal powerhouses J.B. Hunt, Hub Group and XPO Logistics have all confirmed this backdrop on their earnings calls and virtual appearances at investor conferences.
While intermodal train speeds are up in the fourth quarter, Darren Feld, president of Intermodal at J.B. Hunt, points out that that can be a misleading statistic as congestion at rail terminals, slow unloading at customer facilities and labor shortages are all limiting ultimate volume potential. This fact is reflected in increasing dwell times for the Class I rails.
Week 52 Class I intermodal volume accelerated to a scorching 20.8% y/y growth (four-week moving average 10.7%). Average intermodal train velocities declined by 0.5 mph (1.5%) week-over-week. Intermodal tender rejections on a national basis rose to 4.68%.
According to a Mastercard holiday spending survey covering the period from Oct. 11 to Dec. 24, cumulative spending was up 3% year-over-year, supportive of the fundamental backdrop for intermodal.
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