A bit under the bellwether?

Some of what the international media has been revealing is strangely being ignored by our own U.S. reporting journals, but thanks to the internet, here are a few of the items that have gotten through.

• COSCO, Asia’s third-largest container terminal operator, boosted its second-half profit by 81 percent.
• Net income at PSA International, an even larger container terminal operator, rose 59 percent.
• Dubai Ports World, the fourth-largest container terminal operator, boosted its 2007 after-tax profit by 50 percent.
• The recent ten months volume at the Port of Colombo shows an increase of 11.2% over last year’s corresponding ten-month period.
• Hamburg Sud’s 2007 cargo volume rose 17 percent, according to a company spokesman. “Buoyed by continuing worldwide economic growth of over 5 percent, container liner shipping recorded an increase in cargo volume of just under 11 percent in 2007. With volume gains of 17 percent, the Hamburg Sud Group was once again well above the average for the industry,” the report stated.

In spite of the “continuing worldwide economic growth,” however, Susan Gallagher of the Associated Press gave us a different picture in a March 28th story. “Weak Economy Slows Cargo, Idles Railcars”, is how she headlined her article.

“CRAIG, Mont. (AP) – BNSF Railway Co., the nation’s top hauler of container rail freight, is parking miles of rail cars in Montana and elsewhere because there isn’t enough freight to keep them rolling. Cars that often carry 40-foot containers of goods shipped from Asia stand like an iron fence between the Missouri River and this Montana burg known for world-class fly fishing. They stretch as far as Sandee Cardinal can see when she stands outside her home on the river’s west bank between Helena and Great Falls.

“‘What is that but a symbol of how America is down in the dumps right now?’” Cardinal asked as she gazed at the cars that haven’t been moved for about three months. The cars parked are the type that haul cargo from ships on the coast to points inland, mainly imported goods – an area that’s starting to slow down due to the weak economy. Analysts say transportation usually is among the first sectors to show signs of a downturn in the economy and with Americans feeling pinched – employers eliminated 63,000 jobs last month amid declining consumer confidence – it could be a while before the idle cars move.

“‘If you take a look at transportation, both trucking and rail, you will see that things started softening last summer,’ said Arnold Meltz, a professor of logistics at Arizona State University. ‘The reason you are seeing all those cars parked is that the consumer economy translates into slower imports.’ Texas-based BNSF Railway, a division of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., has parked upward of 1,000 cars in Montana alone, spokesman Gus Melonas said. More are parked in other parts of the company’s 32,000-mile system, which operates in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.

“‘There’s been a downturn in international business and therefore this equipment is not necessary at this point,’ Melonas said….”

“Seasonal car storage is common, he said, but the number of cars now idle is exceptional….”

“For the first two months of 2008, the volume of intermodal rail freight in the United States was down 3.4 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the Association of American Railroads, an industry group based in Washington, D.C. Last year, intermodal traffic was flat as railroads began to feel the effects of slowing retail orders and the dollar’s decline….”

“One of the nation’s leading trucking companies, Schneider National, in Green bay, Wis., says it believes a freight recession began about 20 months ago, well before signs of a downturn closed in on consumers.

“‘We have been in a freight recession longer than people have been expressing deep concern about the economy,’ said Bill Matheson, Schneider’s president for intermodal transportation.

“Trucking companies are in a unique position. They often compete with railroads for long haul contracts, while also carrying freight from the nearest railhead to its final destination.

“Schneider is not parking trucks, but neither is it buying new ones to the usual extent, Matheson said.

“In Long Beach, Calif., home of the nation’s busiest port complex with Los Angeles, the movement of goods has been somewhat stagnant. About 7.3 million containers passed through the Port of Long Beach in 2007, the same as in 2006, port spokesman John Pope said.

“‘That was a big decline from the growth we’d seen in the past decade or so,’ Pope said. ‘Typically, there has been double-digit growth from year to year.’”

Well, here’s what Susan Gallagher was able to tell us:
• In spite of the fact that there has been “continuing worldwide economic growth”, a diversionary statement from a U.S. railroad spokesman would have us believe otherwise. “There’s been a downturn in international business,” the man said.
• On the contrary, overseas ports are recording unprecedented gains.
• Foreign “container shipping lines recorded an increase in cargo volume of just under 11 percent in 2007″.
• But in the U.S., “Weak Economy Slows Cargo, Idles Railcars”.

Speaking of diversions, a number of governors and port officials have taken overseas junkets in their attempts to place the blame for our economic downturn on overseas entities. In highly-publicized attempts to attract container lines to ports within their jurisdictions, these officials would have their constituents and unwary representatives believe that U.S. consumers are being overlooked, or denied, by overseas manufacturers and shipping lines. As usual, the public is being misled. U.S. unemployment is the reason for our economic woes (like the loss of 63,000 jobs last month?), and the ineptness of appointed officials to create jobs is the cause of our approaching depression.