U.S. trade gap grows wider, but recovery signs are rampant in intermodal sector

In March, the U.S. trade gap widened to $40.4 billion from February's $39.4 billion, according to an IHS Global Insight international trade balance report. Sounds like bad news, right? Not necessarily.

March export volumes rose 3.4 percent and value increased 3.2 percent, while import volumes climbed 3.5 percent and value went up 3.1 percent.

“This was a positive report for the U.S. and global growth outlook,” the IHS Global report states. “It showed sharp increases in both export and import volumes, indicating that the world trade recovery still has plenty of momentum.”

Global trade recovery signs are rampant in the intermodal sector. In the first quarter, total North American intermodal volume surged 8.4 percent and international container volume climbed 7.8 percent — jumping 18 percent in March alone — compared with the same 2009 periods, according to the Intermodal Association of North America. In addition, international intermodal shipments grew faster than overall long-haul truck moves in Q1, according to FTR Associates.

“The stars are aligning for what could be an acceleration in intermodal share growth,” said Lawrence Gross, a FTR senior consultant, in a recent report. “Active truck capacity is coming into balance with demand, and even a modest increase in freight demand could lead to shortages of truck drivers and, hence, truck capacity, resulting in more opportunity for intermodal. Increases in fuel prices and the continued rebound in international shipments will also aid share growth.”

After a dismal 2009, international intermodal traffic could stand a serious boost in 2010. That the tealeaves and Tarot cards suggest it’ll happen has to be big-time encouraging for the rail industry’s biggest intermodal players.