Why Should We Ignore Coal Consumption?

by: Wildebeest

In recent weeks rail freight data has been looking more positive for intermodal freight, while carloads are stagnating. There seems to be a school of thought that because the amount of coal being shipped is well down in previous years, we should ignore coal and only examine rail coarload volumes ex-coal. I haven't read a well argued justification for this; arguments seem to be framed solely at producing a set of data that conforms to a certain narrative. In any case there are many other categories of rail freight that are not looking good at the moment; so why stop at coal if you want to massage data?

If coal freight movements are down, doesn't it follow that coal consumption and power generation are probably down? Isn't a decline in electricity usage indicative of a struggling economy? Unfortunately there is a 3-4 month lag in obtaining information about energy usage, but as on November 2009 the trend was consistent with many other metrics.

And coal remains a significant contributor to our energy consumption:

So why should we ignore coal?

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