I viewed an interview featuring billionaire Warren Buffet where he was asked about which indicators he monitored to gauge the current state of the economy.  His response was that he continuously monitors the amount of freight volumes among the various railroads.  Mr. Buffet believes that the state of economic health is best gauged by logistics and movement of goods.  A wise sage!

This week featured a good sampling of major U.S. transportation carrier reports so I decided to assess the operational numbers that were reported.  They all point to and reinforce a consistent trend- volumes may have hit bottom, but the economy is still nowhere near recovery in output of goods.

Here’s the summary of recently reported Quarter 2 highlights:


Revenue Earnings


Burlington Northern Down 26% Up 15% Down 19%
CSX Down 25% Down 20% Down 23%
Union Pacific Down 28% Down 12% Down 22%
UPS Down 17% Down 49% Domestic down 4.7%                             International down 7.3%


In terms of commentary, Burlington Northern cited major volume declines in consumer goods (down 34%), autos (down 43%).  CSX noted that volumes were significantly down in metals and forest products, and was particularly concerned about recent declines in coal shipments.  Burlington Northern, Union Pacific and UPS together commented that previous declines in freight volumes were stabilizing, but each were not optimistic as to when any sense of “normal” shipment volumes would return. To give readers a sense of the state of small business, the reported UPS package volumes indicate an average reduction of 110,000 per day from a year ago, or roughly 6.6 million packages on a quarterly basis.  That’s unused capacity that UPS had in place a year ago.

So if we use the “Buffet gauge”, the U.S. economy is probably bottoming, but recovery remains months away as basic industries await improving demand from customers.

International readers of Supply Chain Matters are welcomed to share commentary regarding unit volumes from their major country carriers.

 Bob Ferrari