Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Macroeconomic Monday®

Last week was a heck of a week for the macroeconomic outlook for both the world and the US economy.  As everyone who reads this blog knows, I report on this as I firmly believe the macroeconomic outlook is at least as much, and probably more, impact on the logistics industry than just about any other factor.


First, there is good news on the unemployment front. Conspiracy theories aside, it is clear unemployment is coming down and participation is going up.  The good news, for the younger workers, is the long term demographic trend is more people retire which opens up more jobs for the younger workers.

As provided by
The graphs on the left from the BLS and provided by Northerntrust show the unemployment rate going down and the long term unemployment rate going down.

Both the ISM manufacturing and the ISM non-manufacturing indices were up above expectations  which show the economy is still "limping" along but it is, in fact, moving forward.  Most expect GDP to grow by less than 2% this year and be somewhere close to 1.25% to 1.75%.

GDP Analysis
This GDP number is very instructive as most in the transportation industry have said the "big capacity crunch" will come when GDP is at 3% or over.  These GDP predictions show we are far from this capacity crunch "red line" and therefore shippers should be fairly aggressive in their purchasing methodology.  FTR had reported coming into the year that they expected GDP to be 2.5% to 3% and at 3% we would hit a major capacity crunch.  Clearly, we will be 1/2 of that number.

Using these numbers, is using this data to say the driver shortage and the somewhat fabricated capacity shortage will remain not at a high enough level to "cause undo stress on the transportation system".

Consumer Credit
The most surprising number in the reports last week was the consumer credit number.  It looks like people have started feeling comfortable running up the debt levels again (which is not a good thing).  Consumer credit was up over $18bl which was significantly more than expected.  I say this is not a good thing because I read two things into this number:

  1. People are living on the edge.  A little slow down here or there and they have to go to credit to make things work.
  2. If people are already using credit to this level, a bit more of a slowdown (which is likely) will result in a collapse of household balance sheets which was a core driver of the 2008 financial crisis. 
The slowing of the economy and the fact that it never seems to get off of first base is partly due to the repair of household balance sheets.  Give a family an additional $1,000 and in the past few years most would use it to pay off debt.  That helps balance sheets but does nothing for the economy.  It is a short term hit but a good long term trend.  These consumer credit numbers, if they continue, show that good long term trend is reversing.  We shall have to see how it continues. 


One of my additions to this report will be a simple rating deciding which side the numbers favored.  we will have 5 potential ratings:  Advantage carrier, Slight Advantage carrier, Neutral, Slight Advantage Shipper, Advantage Shipper.   While people may argue where we are today, I think it is clear the arguments are centered around a Neutral rating.  It swings a little here and there but for now things are balanced,  Even the top executives in the trucking industry will say the capacity crunch is coming versus is here.  So, we start essentially in the middle.

This week's statistics show "Slight Advantage: Shipper"® (I will start summarizing the data concerning which direction the economic numbers move the shipper / carrier needle).  A GDP number below 2%, the growth of credit (which eventually will need to be paid off) are showing the economy slowing.  The one positive is the jobs report so that is why this week was only a slight advantage in the direction of the shipper.  

Look Ahead:

We will soon get the new sales / inventory numbers which will really be telling concerning the potential of a "restocking" of inventory levels (which we in transportation love even though it is a temporary boost).  As a reminder, below was the last release graphed.  It shows we have flopped around the 1.25 level for most of this recession and had a bit of an increase at the beginning of this year. 

Inventory / Sales ratio: US Census
 Remember, going into this year most had thought it was the year of a recovery and 2.5% to 3% was the expected GDP.  Given this it was natural to think the inventories would increase in preparation for future sales.  This is the second year in a row where the forecasters were wrong and so I anticipate people will not get fooled again and this number will actually decrease as businesses will be a bit timid to increase inventory in anticipation of any future sales.  If the restocking does not occur (as I anticipate) then the advantage will continue to swing to the shipper. 

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