Monday, June 10, 2013

Macroeconomic Monday® - A tale of Two Economies

There are two economies developing and it is very important you do not confuse the two.  The first economy is the financial  economy.  This is Wall Street, investing, arbitrage and commodities.  When bundled together this economy is on a tear.  It is booming and if your business is just to make money with money the Fed has become your friend and your company is most likely doing very well.

The drawback to the financial economy  for my readers is just this: There is no freight.  There is no freight in the booming of Wall Street.  Nothing is produced, shipped and delivered beyond bits and bytes of data which magically turns into money in your bank account.

There is the second economy which is the physical economy.  This is the area where my readers and I have participated for most of our lives and this area is operating in a murky, up and down environment and is not nearly as "booming" as the financial economy.  While the financial economy, in a lot of cases, is at a pre-recession level, the physical economy is not.

Here is why it matters for us logisticians.  If the physical economy does not improve we will continue to mired in a low freight environment while at the same time believing the economy is booming.  This is why shippers need to keep a real eye on the actual physical economy and not let the financial economy sway their opinion.  Will capacity continue to decrease?  Yes.  However, and unfortunately, demand for goods seem to be decreasing as well.

You need look no further than the unemployment rate to know why.
 The graph to the left shows us in a stubborn range of unemployment.  As many economists have discussed this also does not reflect the underemployed, those who have stopped looking and those who are employed but are too scared to spend due to a fear of losing their job.

The simple fact is when unemployment is this high people will hold onto money and not spend it.  When they do not spend, their is nothing to move.  And, this translates into lower freight volumes.

This can be reflected in my infamous love affair with the inventory to sales ratio.
 This ratio has stayed flat for a while and recently had a small uptick.  We will be getting a new reading this Thursday but the trend line is clear:  Businesses thought sales would increase, inventory went up and the sales did not come.

Again, more indication of a lack of freight demand.  This also means that when demand picks up there will be a lag in freight demand as inventories will need to clear out.

The summary is simple:  While last week may have ended with a bang on Wall Street, it was a thud on main street - inventories up, unemployment up, construction spending did not keep pace with expectations and manufacturing actually contracted.

In a real perverse way, you know the physical economy is doing poorly when the market is up because the market is being driven by the expectations for the FED to keep rates low and keep the quantitative easing program going.  When physical economy results come in below expectations, the traders believe this will keep the Fed going, which will then boost the market.  If you see the market collapse then, perhaps, we will see a signal in the growth of the physical economy as the market collapsing will be an indicator the traders believe the Fed will be backing away.

What is down is up!

No comments:

Post a Comment