This year's unexpectedly strong peak season for intermodal traffic suggests that shippers are getting ready for lots of packages under the Christmas tree, according to the Intermodal Association of North America.
Volume across the intermodal network in late summer and early fall "exceeded all expectations," IANA said in its latest quarterly report. Much of the 20 percent third-quarter gain from the 2009 period was powered by import-dominated international shipments.
IANA said the "boom in imports, in particular, suggests that retailers are expecting strong volume sales (if not necessarily strong pricing) during the upcoming holiday season."
The monthly Global Port Tracker report released Friday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates confirms IANA's expectations.
Since the economy's initially brisk recovery flattened in late spring to slow GDP growth of 2 percent or less in the second and third quarters, many analysts looked for only a mild gain in holiday sales. Retailers have also predicted only a moderate increase this year in total revenue for the Christmas season, which is their largest sales period all year.
But the surge in intermodal containers and trailers, usually filled with consumer goods headed for retail shelves and warehouses, suggests that store executives want to have plenty of stock on hand for their customers.
IANA said the next couple of months "will test the proposition that rail intermodal loadings are a leading indicator of economic activity."
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