January 25, 2021


The Transportation sector is widely diversified with railroad operators, trucking companies and airlines as its few key components. It is a well-known fact that the sector is dealt a huge blow by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Depressed freight revenues due to lackluster volumes have been one of the many headwinds afflicting the sector so far. The COVID-19 outbreak crippled the shipment of goods not only across the United States but also globally.

As a consequence, freight revenues at the railroad operator Union Pacific Corporation UNP declined 13% in the first nine months of 2020, mainly due to coronavirus-induced depressed volumes (down 10%). The story paints a dismal picture for another railroad operator Norfolk Southern Corporation NSC as well. Overall volumes fell 7% in the first nine months of 2020 with volumes declining 15%, 9% and 41% in the three reportable segments, namely merchandise, intermodal and coal, respectively. At CSX Corporation CSX, total volumes contracted 8% in the first nine months of 2020, mainly due to reduced industrial activity.

Freight Scenario on the Mend

However, with the gradual reopening of economies, the freight scenario has been improving in North America for a while now. After months of coronavirus-induced disruptions, freight volumes are gradually expanding. The recovery in freight demand following the ramp-up of economic activities as restrictions get relaxed is a boon for the concerned transportation companies.

Per the latest Cass Freight Shipments Index report, shipment volumes inched up 2.4% on a year-over-year basis. Notably, this was the first time that the metric has showed an improvement year over year since Nov 2018 when growth was merely 0.6%. In fact, the year-over-year betterment in shipment volumes during October 2020 was the best reading since 6.2% growth was registered in October 2018.

Even though the last month’s reading displayed year-over-year growth, the gradual recovery in the freight scenario can be gauged from the fact that shipment volumes have been displaying an uptick on a month-over-month basis over the past few months. Evidently, the metric improved 1.6% in May from April levels.Readings in June, July, August, September and October improved 3.5%, 4.8%, 8%, 7.1% and 0.3%, respectively, month over month.

Union Pacific’s commentary at the Stephens Annual Investment Conference earlier in the month bears testimony to the improved scenario with respect to overall volumes. Management stated that overall volumes for the December quarter are up 3% through Nov 11. Overall volumes rose on strength in the premium segment (up 11%).

This resurgence in the freight scenario can be attributed to healthy consumer spending with US retail sales on the rise. Notably, retail sales increased 5.2% year over year in October 2020. Improvement on a year-over-year basis with respect to rail volumes was also witnessed in the month. Per the Association of American Railroads’ report, total U.S. rail traffic in October this year was 2,082,646 carloads and intermodal units, up 2% from the October reading last year.

Moreover, for the third quarter of 2020, U.S. real GDP increased at an annual rate of 33.1%,


Illustration for article titled The Beginners Guide to Picking the Perfect Bicycle

Illustration: Sam Woolley

I had always been a bike purist. Up until recently, I’ve been riding the same bike I got for my 10th birthday. Sure, it still got me where I needed to go, but it was definitely time for an upgrade. As a total beginner, I discovered picking the right bike isn’t as simple as I thought. From frame size to extra features, here’s how to find your perfect ride.

Choose the right bike type based on your needs

When I walked into my local bike shop and they asked what I was looking for, I had no idea what to say beyond, “a really cool bike.” I didn’t know where to start, so I told them I just wanted something for riding around the neighborhood. Even then, I discovered there were options.

The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) lists the general types of bikes you can find at most stores here. You probably know the difference between a mountain bike and a cruiser (pictured above), but there are a few types in between. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Mountain bikes: Rugged and meant for off-road use, but you can use them on pavement, too.
  • Road bikes: Meant for pavement use, like riding around in the city. Built for speed.
  • Hybrid bikes: A cross between mountain and road bikes. Not as fast as road bikes, and not as rugged as mountain bikes, but good for commuting.
  • Cruisers: Casual bike for, you know, cruising. The kind of bikes you see people ride around boardwalks near the beach.

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This infographic also does an excellent job of breaking down the different bike types for beginners. Of course, there are all sorts of additional, specific types of bikes: tandem bikes, BMX bikes, fixed-gear bikes. But for us beginners, these four are a good place to start. I wanted a good transportation bike, but maybe even one I could take on nearby trails, so the salesman suggested a hybrid.

Calculate how much you want to spend

It goes without saying that bikes can be expensive. Those prices range quite a bit, though, from a hundred bucks to several thousand depending on what you buy. Ebicycles.com says beginners can expect to at least spend a few hundred bucks, and CostHelper breaks down the price points (emphasis ours🙂

  • The low range is $80 to $300. Usually these basic metal frames are just functional, though often still stylish. Target sells low-range models by numerous brands, including Huffy and Forge.
  • Mid-range bikes cost $300 to $1,000. These aluminum or lighter metal bikes are the best bet for everyday riders because their higher-quality wheels, chains and pedals increase their durability.
  • High-end bikes cost $1,000 and higher. These models are usually made of the lightest metals, including carbon and titanium, and are designed for more rigorous, everyday use or light competition. Riders can build their own model in a store or online by choosing from several different