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Despite CSX CEO's Confidence, US Oil Railcar Rates Have Crashed To 3 Year Lows

Two weeks ago, rail freight transportation company CSX's CEO Michael Ward stated 'unequivocally' that as far as the movement of crude by rail he has "not seen any changes," suggesting everything's fine down to $30-35 oil and "expected no impact on crude shipments." It appears he may have been somewhat careful with the truth as Reuters reports, while overall oil-train traffic remains near record highs, the shadowy industry that deals in the specialized 87-tonne crude carriers has seen monthly lease rates plunge to $1,300 late last month from a high of $2,450 about year earlier with the rates at their lowest in about three years. Even worse, railcar construction has surged amid the mal-investment boom exaggerating the over-supply, with one trader noting brokers were offering cars at spot rates of as little as $500 a month compared with $4,000 a year ago.

 

CSX CEO giving the all-clear 2 weeks ago...

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And now, as Reuters reports, prices are plunging...

While overall oil-train traffic remains near record highs, the shadowy industry that deals in the specialized 87-tonne crude carriers is getting the taste of the wild swings that define the global oil market.

 

The sudden slump in the tank car market has more to do with narrowing crude oil spreads and ample tank car supply from manufacturers such as Greenbrier and American Railcar Industries than with more than 50 percent dive in U.S. crude prices over the past seven months.

 

But it may be an early warning for rail companies such as CSX, BNSF and Union Pacific, which have been resolutely upbeat despite growing expectations that booming U.S. oil production will begin to slow as soon as this summer.

 

Monthly lease rates for the most common of oil rail cars fell to $1,300 late last month from a high of $2,450 about year earlier, according to data obtained by Reuters from energy industry intelligence service Genscape.

 

The rates for cars, used to transport more than half of North Dakota's crude, are at their lowest in about three years, said Tom Williamson, owner of Transportation Consultants.

 

"It wasn't that long ago that you couldn't find a car to lease, now I'm getting calls from brokers offering the cars," he said, adding that he has received offers for 1,500 cars since late October.

And in the usual mal-investment-driven exuberance manner, supply has got ahead of 'real' sustainable demand...

The latest weekly Genscape data shows crude rail deliveries to East Coast refineries were down significantly.

 

As a result, the spot market for rail cars has all but dried up, prompting their owners to park about 15 unit trains in a Midwest facility until demand picks up, according to several industry insiders. The actual number of trains sidelined or converted for other uses is much higher, especially if Canada is included, sources said.

 

One trader said brokers were offering cars at spot rates of as little as $500 a month compared with $4,000 a year ago.

 

The slump comes while manufacturers are still working through orders for new cars that were placed during the surge in traffic. At the end of December, the backlog stood at 142,837 units, according to the Railway Supply Institute data, released Thursday.

 

New freight-car orders, however, fell to 37,431 in the fourth quarter, down 13 percent from last year's highs, the data showed. Macquarie estimates that new orders for tank cars will drop by 70 percent this year.

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Not unambiguously good at all...