Data: Association of American Railroads; Table: Axios Visuals

The latest report from the Association of American Railroads showed the slow recovery in rail shipping in September.

What's happening: While the report notes that rail volume overall continues to be down from 2019, one bright spot is intermodal shipping, or the transport of finished products and raw materials.

  • U.S. intermodal originations in September were the fourth most for any month in history and up 7.1% over September 2019. Intermodal traffic rose 2.9% in the third quarter, after a 12.6% decline in Q2.
  • Recent intermodal gains are largely thanks to a surge in imports, especially from Asia, as firms restock inventories and retailers prepare for the early start of the holiday shopping season.

Yes, but: Average weekly carloads are still down significantly from 2019's pace in the U.S. and Canada, with total carloads in September down 9.7% from last year. That’s still a sizable decline, but is the smallest since March.

  • Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloads were down 2.9% in September year over year, following declines of 9.9% in August, 12.7% in July, and 17.4% in June.

What they're saying: "Think of the economy as an apple tree. Picking the fruit off the lowest branches is easy; picking the fruit off the highest branches can be done, but it’s much harder. Right now, lots of higher-up apples remain."

Air shipments also show slow recovery.

Shipping by sea is showing a similar slow-but-steady recovery, as the apparel industry is "emerging from the worst of COVID-19 with radically changed supply trends," per S&P Global Market Intelligence's Panjiva.

  • Total U.S. seaborne imports of apparel, footwear and textiles increased by 0.8% year over year in September, the first increase in a year, thanks entirely to textile shipments.

By the numbers: Shipments of apparel and footwear were down by 1.6% and 17.0%, respectively, while textile shipments jumped by 18.9%.

  • ​​​​​For Q3 overall the apparel sector’s shipments were down by 4.2% year over year.
  • Shipments of athleisure products rose 3% year over year in Q3 while formalwear declined by 17.6%.
  • Uncertainties about returning to school may have kept a lid on shipments of kids' clothes, which fell by 18.1% compared to non-kids' clothes, which declined by 13.0%.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Oct 12, 2020 - Economy & Business

Real-time data show slowing recovery

Data: New York Fed; Chart: Axios Visuals

The New York Fed's index of real-time data indicators perked up again last week after moving lower the previous week. The Weekly Economic Index has been choppy since July showing that U.S. growth continues to recover but is sputtering.

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  3. Business: Where stimulus is needed most.
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Climate protest in Tokyo in November 2019. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

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Why it matters: Japan is the world's fifth-largest source of carbon emissions. The new goal announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is stronger than the country's previous target of becoming carbon neutral as early as possible in the latter half of the century.