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Rail News: Mechanical

Both tank-car and non-tank-car backlogs grew in Q2, Stern Agee says

Second-quarter rail-car market data released on Friday by the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) supports the thesis of a rising, non-tank-car backlog and a rebound in the tank-car backlog after four straight flat-to-declining quarters, Stern Agee analyst Sal Vitale said in a report.

Q2 data from RSI's American Railway Car Institute Committee shows the total car backlog increased 17,855 units by the second quarter's end, from 81,927 as of April 1 to 99,782 as of July 1. Car orders totaled 33,912 units (versus 24,050 in Q1) and deliveries totaled 16,056 units (versus 13,954 in Q1).

The tank-car backlog rose from 50,500 units to 52,600 units on orders totaling 10,600 and deliveries totaling 8,800, Vitale says in the report. The total backlog increased 22 percent in the second quarter, driven by a 50 percent quarter-over-quarter increase in the non-tank-car backlog, specifically attributable to stronger small-cube covered hopper orders, he said. It was the fifth-straight quarter-over-quarter rise in the non-tank-car backlog after six quarters of declines.

From third-quarter 2011 to first-quarter 2013, the non-tank backlog fell 72 percent, said Vitale. Since then, the backlog more than quadrupled largely because of a tenfold increase in covered hoppers.

"Similar to the first quarter, renewed demand for small-cube covered hoppers (frac sand and cement) drove much of the increase in overall orders, but the backlog also rose for mid-sized covered hoppers (grain, soda ash, potash), and large cube hoppers (plastics)," Vitale wrote. "This increase is consistent with our thesis of a shift in rail-car backlog growth from tank cars — the main driver in 2011/12 — to non-tank cars. Tank cars now comprise 53 percent of industry backlog, down from the peak level of 86 percent in first-quarter 2013."

In addition, a continued recovery in intermodal orders occurred in the second quarter. Intermodal orders totaling 3,300 units increased from 2,200 units in the first quarter and zero orders in both the third and fourth quarters of 2013, said Vitale. The intermodal backlog increased sixfold.

Meanwhile, coal car orders were lower than expected in Q2, totaling less than 150 units.

"We were expecting another 1,000-plus quarter given the recent improvement in railroad coal volumes," said Vitale. "Given that coal car orders have historically been very lumpy, we believe the recent improvement in coal volume growth will translate into increased new car orders in the second half."


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