Union Pacific: Has Hurricane Harvey Impacted Freight Volumes?



UNP’s railcar volumes

In the week ended September 2, 2017, Union Pacific (UNP) recorded a 12.7% fall in railcar traffic. Railcar volume was ~88,000 units that week compared to ~101,000 in the week ended September 3, 2016. Union Pacific posted a volume fall across coal and coke carloads and carloads other than coal and coke. Volumes sans coal and coke railcars fell 15.6% in the 35th week to ~62,000 from ~74,000 railcars in the same week last year.

Union Pacific has operations in the Southern United States, including Texas. The double-digit fall in volumes can be attributed to disruptions caused by Hurricane Harvey. So the company registered a much higher fall in railcar traffic compared to US railroads in week 35 of 2017.

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Coal and coke carloads

Union Pacific registered a 4.5% fall in its coal (ARLP) and coke carloads in the reported week of 2017. Its coke and coal volumes shrank to ~26,000 railcars compared to ~27,000 carloads in the corresponding week last year.

UNP mainly competes with Berkshire Hathaway–owned BNSF Railway (BRK.B) in the Western United States. In terms of magnitude of freight volumes, BNSF Railway leads its Class I peers.

UNP’s intermodal traffic

Union Pacific’s intermodal traffic fell in week 35 of 2017. From ~74,500 containers and trailers in the same week last year, it fell to ~72,000 units in the reported week. Container volumes fell in contrast to trailers. The company’s container traffic fell 3.3% to ~69,000 units from ~72,000 in the 35th week of 2016. Trailers rose 4.6% on a year-over-year basis in week 35.

While US railroads’ (CSX) intermodal traffic rose in the 35th week of 2017, Union Pacific registered a fall. That may be due to the adverse effects of Hurricane Harvey.

ETF option

Investors wanting exposure to transportation and logistics stocks can consider the iShares US Industrials (IYJ). Prominent US airlines and major railroads make up 4.9% and 6.0%, respectively, of IYJ’s holding.

Next, let’s look at an update on BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Railway’s (BRK.B) freight volumes.


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