Monday, June 20, 2016

Late To The Economic Party?

I have written about this business district twice previously in my personal economic blog.  It is an older business district located between two fairly affluent suburbs near my house.  It is very close to the local mall and big “strip” stores. It is also very accessible to the expressway.   The district is home to many older offices and small businesses which either do not need the street exposure or prestige of being located near the mall or cannot afford the higher rents.

I find this district interesting because I believe it serves as a reliable (tangible and ground level) economic indicator. These are the smaller, more marginal, more fragile, businesses which tend to feel an economic draw back the earliest.  I first noticed the connection before the Great Recession.  Prior to the downturn, businesses in the district started to close even though the mall area was still thriving.  There were empty storefronts and numerous “For Lease” signs.  Male oriented entertainment venues, highly dependent on disposable income, closed.  The self-carwash even promoted “bucket washing”, something that is usually strictly prohibited at these operations.

When the recession did hit, I labeled this area an “economic war zone”.  There were more places closed than open. Long time businesses, such as the pizza parlor, went under.  It looked as if a depression had hit and it was surely depressing to drive down the streets.

However, the second time I wrote about this district was to describe its economic recovery.  New businesses such as an Arabian market and a pet grooming service had moved into vacated buildings.  Two men’s-oriented entertainment venues opened or returned.  No more bucket washing was permitted at the car wash.  A field where an older building was demolished, found use as a display area for a storage barn builder.

Subsequent to that blog post, there was even more development.  A micro-brewery opened in a nicely remodeled building.  The biggest multi-business strip center was given a much needed make-over.  The “For Lease” signs mostly disappeared.

Unfortunately, if you haven’t already surmised, there is a reason that I am writing about this area again now.  About 9 months ago, things started to erode once again.  The Arabian market is gone, so is the pet grooming place.  The men’s entertainment venues are no more.  The car wash has closed.  The “For Lease” signs are increasing at a steady rate.  The district today looks eerily similar to what it did right before the Great Recession.

(And a few days after this post appeared on the FTR website, the largest bar/entertainment place in this area announced they were closing down after many years in business)

This worries me with an economy growing at the GDP rate of 0.8% (Q2 is expected to be 2.4% - FTR). However, what concerns me most is what first appeared to be a very positive development in the area.  A developer tore down an aging office building
(which had a weird 1970’s oriented design) and constructed a beautiful new office building designed to house five companies.  The building was completed promptly and the “For Lease” signs appeared around the beginning of the year.

And --- it sits empty. Considering you would begin to market the property when you were constructing it, that’s over seven months with no takers.  Of course, the property could be over-priced.  Let’s hope so, because there is always some builder or investor that takes a risk and the end of the economic cycle that later really wishes he hadn’t. 

Let’s hope this developer wasn’t extremely late to this party, even to a party that was never that spectacular.

This post first appeared on the FTR website.  FTR is the leader in analyzing and forecasting the commercial transportation industry.  For more information on FTR reports and services, please click here.)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Is the Air Leaving the Balloon?


It is interesting to watch economists try to describe and predict the current economy based on previous trends and once reliable economic indicators.  It is similar to watching the political experts and pundits try to analyze and predict this year’s presidential race based on history.

This is new territory; we haven’t been here before.  So how can we ever know what awaits us around the bend?  Yet, as we slowly make our way to that bend, one can feel a collective economic nervousness.

Most economists expect the economy to revert back to the slow growth mode of the previous seven years.  Some are calling for a mild recession, with a few calling for a deeper one.  Almost no one expects the economy to jump back into a strong growth mode very soon.  In the Wall Street Journal economist survey (over 70 economists), no participant is predicting anything close to a recession and only two are forecasting future growth at over 3.5%.

The best argument against a recession is that downturns are usually the result of excesses, or overheating, in some area of the economy.  A negative offset to some positive overreach.  Because you have no apparent excess in the economy right now, there is nothing to react to, no bubble to burst.  In other words:  no cycle up; no cycle down.

Yet, the economy has been slipping downward for months now and many signs I watch are currently turning, but not flashing yellow.

-         Manufacturing went into recession (six months of no growth beginning in August).  This recession stopped in March when the ISM Manufacturing Index hit 51.8 (over 50 equals growth).  April’s number went down to 50.8, barely growing.  So manufacturing did not “snap back” from its downturn, more like it crawled out from the pit, and it remains weak. 


-         Business inventories are bloated, because businesses continued to stock based on expectations that consumer spending would continue to increase at a healthy rate.  When spending slowed, stocks swelled, and manufacturing skidded (the weak world economy also hurt exports).


-         But what’s wrong with consumer spending?  Higher employment and the low-price gasoline dividend were supposed to boost disposable income and lead to greater economic growth. Retail sales did rise 1.3% in April, after a 0.3% drop in March.


-         Something is happening with disposable income.  My disposable spending index has been down the past two months.  I am hearing reports that charitable giving is weaker in 2016.  Could this be the result of higher healthcare costs?  Is this acting as an invisible tax?  Could the savings rate be increasing because people are reacting to higher deductibles on their policies?


-         Business investment continues to be tepid.  There is a lack of confidence in the future, and businesses are not spending much money right now.  Factory orders have been weak for several months now.  Normally a decrease in business investment precedes a recession; however, businesses were not spending much before (no excess bubble here), so it is consistent with a slow/no growth economy.

The latest Q1 GDP revision has the economy at 0.8%.  This is the third straight quarterly drop, but this particular pattern has been repeated several times in this recovery, with the economy then returning to moderate growth.  Could it be different this time?

This economy feels like the air is slowly being let out of the balloon, that it is sluggishly running out of gas and coming to a stop.  When I expressed this theory to a colleague recently, he challenged me by asking when this had ever happened to the economy before.  And, of course, I had no good answer.  The best I could muster is that it happened last when we had a Great Recession,
Our smiles are fading .....
due to a major bubble, which the government injected billions into the economy to save it and then held interest rates extremely low for eight years, in which GDP never exceeded 3% in any year.  What a strange mess of things, no?

Maybe this is what a downward adjustment looks like under these conditions.  A couple quarters of “resting” and then a continuation of growth, albeit slow growth.  The forecast?  Things are getting worse, but not real bad.  Then things will get better, but not that good.  Second verse, same as the first…or maybe the last seven, for that matter. 

This post first appeared on the FTR website.  FTR is the leader in analyzing and forecasting the commercial transportation industry.  For more information on FTR reports and services, please click here.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

How are men’s underwear sales similar to the flatbed trailer market?


In the 1970s, former Fed chairman Allan Greenspan developed the “Men’s Underwear Index” as an economic indicator.  The theory is that increases in men’s underwear sales signal an economic recovery.

The logic is that men will forgo replacing their haggard shorts during a tough economy, but when a recovery begins, new skivvies are one of the first purchases a guy makes.  This index only works for men’s underwear, because women are usually much more diligent in replacing older undergarments. 

This index was recently back in the news as a report was released showing men’s underwear sales peaked in 2006, followed by three straight years of decline, with a bottom (no pun intended) in 2009.  Since then, sales have risen (no pun intended) steadily each of the last six years and are about 16% higher than 2006.

While the Men’s Underwear Index is an interesting economic indicator, I do not find it very useful.  For one thing, it is not as predictable as it was in the ‘70s due to the proliferation of styles and types of men’s underwear.  The “tighty-whities” and plain boxers were much more generic in price and durability, providing more consistency to sales and replacement cycles and, thus, the index.  And though there is high correlation, it has to be tightly tied to the employment numbers, which are already reported on a monthly basis.  This also means it is a lagging (perhaps more like a sagging) indicator, which means it just confirms what has already taken place.  By looking at the current graph of men’s underwear sales, I can determine that a slow and steady economic recovery has taken place since 2009, with good employment growth.  Nothing really new here.

Flatbeds are the men’s underwear of the trailer industry.  For whatever reason, during tough economic times, flatbed fleets will do whatever is necessary to delay replacing worn out equipment.  They will repair old trailers over and over again until the trailer is unusable.  When the economy starts to improve, there is tremendous pent-up demand, and flatbed sales take off and stay healthy until the next economic slowdown.

Flatbeds are also the trailer type most representative of the total U.S. economy.  Flatbed freight includes a wide range of products including industrial, consumer, and consumer-related goods.  This makes flatbed trailer sales a ready-made economic index of the U.S. economy.  It uses the same logic as the Men’s Underwear Index, but it is much more inclusive and expansive.  For example, the cut back in energy exploration is hurting economic growth.  This factor is also reducing flatbed freight and, therefore, flatbed sales. 

In addition, flatbed trailer manufacturing is very representative of “heavy” manufacturing in the U.S.  Factors that impact industrial manufacturing will tend to impact flatbed manufactures more than those of other trailer segments.  So it can represent the state of current manufacturing, to a degree.

Flatbed sales would also tend to be a better economic indicator than men’s underwear, because the flatbed trailer market is more sensitive to economic changes, meaning the cycles are more pronounced and easier to identify.  The underwear data is reported later and is often stale. 

What is the Flatbed Market Saying Now?

Here is a chart of flatbed trailer build since 1995 and the previous two recessions (blue bars):

Source FTR
Two important things are evident:

-         The flatbed market is subject to strong business cycles, and this market started a strong descent more than a year before the previous two recessions.  The market peaked this time in April 2015.

-         Flatbed demand hits bottom at the very end of a recession.  This is very consistent with the replacement cycle described earlier.  At the first sign of economic recovery, flatbed fleets need to replace badly worn trailers.

Flatbed trailer demand started to drop in July, a couple months before manufacturing in general began to slow.  It has steadily declined, but has stabilized some the last two months.  This is an indicator that needs to be watched.  However, you might want to buy some new underwear now, just in case.
This post first appeared on the FTR website.  FTR is the leader in analyzing and forecasting the commercial transportation industry.  For more information on FTR reports and services, please click here.)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Expect A Recession By Year End – So Says The Commercial Truck Market

Right into the Danger Zone
Highway to the Danger Zone
Right into the Danger Zone
                             Kenny Loggins

Economic recessions are incredibly hard to predict.  The next one, even more so, because the Great Recession was so impactful that some economic indicators and industry cycles have yet to return to a “normal” state.

This is important because forecasters use current conditions, combined with past conditions and trends, to predict the future.  If you do it any other way, you are either guessing or you are psychic.  Now I have been accused of being psychic, which is actually a good thing in this case.  It means your forecasts are accurate and people can’t figure out how you did it.

Regarding the upcoming recession (everyone can agree that recoveries don’t last forever), there is naturally a wide divergence of opinion.  That is because a wise man once wrote “Economic recessions are incredibly hard to predict”.  The forecasts regarding the next 12 months are:

There Definitely Will Be A Recession

Rogers Holdings Chairman Jim Rogers said in a recent interview there is a 100% probability there will be a recession before March 2017.  Rogers is a well-respected investment executive, so when he says 100% it gets your attention.  So it’s looking bleak in Mr. Rogers neighborhood.

There are many other economists predicting a recession.  They make solid, logical, arguments using the standard charts and graphs.  They explain that the yield curve is not yet inverted (a recession predictor) but they can explain why it really is, or should be.

There Definitely Won’t Be A Recession

You can read commentaries and analyses from other respected economists proclaiming the economy is fine, is expected to get better, and there is no recession in sight.  They also use the standard charts and graphs to buttress their forecasts.  And after all, the yield curve is not inverted.

ECRI (Economic Cycle Research Institute), whose specialty is forecasting recessions, is not predicting one yet, even though its leading index is steadily declining.  The institute is probably being cautious after forecasting a recession in 2012, which never happened.  FTR is forecasting continued weak economic growth, but no recession.

Using The Commercial Vehicle Equipment Market To Calculate The Next Recession

Reading all the commentaries and analyses is confusing, so what can the commercial equipment market tell us about our economic future?  Well, our industry is a leading indicator for the economy.  I determined this years ago when my bosses assigned me the difficult task of finding the leading indicator for the commercial vehicle market.  After month of study I determined there was nothing in front of us, therefore we’re the lead car on this train.

My theory was confirmed soon after that when I attended a presentation by a General Motors economist and she said they track commercial vehicle sales closely because it is a leading indicator for the general economy.  This is not a new phenomenon.  The Dow Theory, developed in the 1930’s, states that the Dow Jones Transportation average is a key barometer to the future condition of the economy and the stock market. 

How It Works

We are going to construct a simple model based on North American Class 8 truck demand. We will take the peak month in the last two upcycles and then measure how long it took after that peak for the general economy to enter recession.

I know this model is so simple that a fifth-grader can understand it, but I like simple models and it does have logic behind it. Truck demand is very cyclical and the economy is also.  Therefore if truck demand is a leading indicator, it should always hit a peak before the general economy.  It also makes sense that trucks haul goods and if you need fewer trucks now, then you are hauling fewer goods in the future and economic growth should slow.

The Model

1. Peak Class 8 Production = October 1999
Recession Begins = March 2001
Gap = 17 months

2. Peak Class 8 Production = October 2006
Recession Begins = December 2007
Gap = 14 months

This time:
Peak Production = June 2015
Expected Start of Next Recession = August 2016 to November 2016


Because the current truck demand cycle is very similar to 1999-2000 (so far), let’s say the model is predicting a recession beginning in Q4 this year.  Hang on, we are about to go right into the Danger Zone.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Officially (by me) a Manufacturing Recession

The term “manufacturing recession” started appearing more frequently in economic articles and discussions beginning last October.  It is an odd expression from an economist’s standpoint.  If the entire economy were in recession, then it would just be a recession.  Consequently, for just a manufacturing recession to exist, the non-manufacturing segment of the economy would have to be growing enough to offset the manufacturing slump and result in a positive GDP number.

This is entirely possible because manufacturing now makes up only around 12% of economic output, while consumer goods and services are 70%.  However, manufacturing recessions are still rare since most of the time the manufacturing and the consumer sector of the economy move somewhat in sync. You would also not expect a manufacturing recession to last an extended time period.  Either the consumer sector would weaken, resulting in a standard recession, or manufacturing would recover and “rejoin” with the rest of the economy.

In addition, manufacturing recessions would tend to be mild.  Any significant downturn in manufacturing would probably lead the economy into a recession and, while the consumer sector and manufacturing can move in opposite directions, the gap between them will not be wide for very long.  Therefore, “manufacturing recessions” should be short and mild.

The term caused a vigorous debate in our recent FTR internal economics meeting.  Somebody asked if the economy was in a manufacturing recession, and we had problems answering that question.  It was pointed out that a manufacturing recession is more severe than a slowing in manufacturing growth.  We all agreed the manufacturing sector had been slowing for several months.  We also agreed that we would not use the term “manufacturing recession” because we could not define the term.

That worked fine for a few minutes, until someone used the term again and the debate started all over again.  I then offered a definition for “manufacturing recession” which I will share with everyone here.

Manufacturing Recession Defined

A manufacturing recession occurs when the PMI Manufacturing Index (Institute for Supply Management) is below 50 for six consecutive months, and during a time that GDP is not negative for two consecutive quarters (the standard definition for an economic recession).

The manufacturing PMI is one of the most accepted measurements of manufacturing activity.  Readings above 50 indicate expansion and those below, contraction.  The index is reported monthly and thus very easy to track.  The reason for the six-month time period is that it corresponds to two quarters of GDP, the recession yardstick.

Where Are We?

Here are the PMI readings for the last six months: 

September = 50.0 (equal to no growth)
October =     49.4
November = 48.4
December = 48.0
January =      48.2
February =    49.5

Therefore, by my strict definition, a manufacturing recession will be declared if the manufacturing PMI is below 50 in March.  But because there has been no manufacturing growth since August, I am going to invoke the “horseshoes and hand grenade rule” and say, yes, we are in a manufacturing recession. And
kudos to the people proclaiming in October and November 2015 that a manufacturing recession had begun; they turned out to be correct!

What about GDP?

For a manufacturing recession to occur, GDP cannot be negative for two consecutive quarters.  This would happen when non-manufacturing is growing and manufacturing is moderately declining, and we would expect GDP to be positive, but weak.  The current 2015Q4 estimate of 1.0% clearly fits the criteria.  The WSJ Economic Panel is forecasting 2.0% for Q2.  Based on the current manufacturing data, the Q2 estimate would appear to be a bit too high.

However, based on this Q2 GDP forecast, the PMI rising two straight months, and the February number at 49.5, it appears that manufacturing will begin growing again in March, and the “manufacturing recession” will end.  The FTR freight forecasts do not show manufacturing getting much better for the rest of 2016, however.  Truck freight growth is forecast to grow an anemic 1.3% this year.  

If manufacturing is able to contribute, even moderately, to GDP, it would indicate that we can make it through 2016 without a recession.  However, the economy will not have much momentum entering 2017, as this long, slow, extended recovery will eventually have to run out of steam.  


 This post first appeared on the FTR website.  FTR is the leader in analyzing and forecasting the commercial transportation industry.  For more information on FTR reports and services, please click here.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Controlling the Greased Pig

Many important economic indicators are showing an obvious negative trend.  If you would have seen this trend in the past (before the Great Recession) you would have concluded a recession was imminent, and most times, you would have been correct.  Our current conditions point to recession under normal circumstances, but conditions are still far from normal.

For most of this recovery manufacturing has led the way, while services and housing have lagged.  Currently, some analysts are saying we are in a “manufacturing recession” but, at the same time, the service sector and housing are performing much better.  It should be noted that if we are in a manufacturing recession, it is currently a very mild one, with the ISM (purchasing managers) index just under the magic “50” neutrality number.

My index that tracks discretionary spending continues to show solid growth, no doubt helped by the “low gas price” dividend.  The Restaurant Performance Index shows that people are continuing to spend some of this “bonus” for dining out. So, even though certain sectors of the economy are on a downward slope, the economy is expected to continue to cycle within a restricted range. 

I believe this is how this restricted range works:

The economy was overheated and running wild in the run up to the Great Recession, then it spun out of control and started to do significant damage.  The government tried to grab hold of it, but it was like trying to catch a greased pig.  With all the turmoil and calamity, maybe it was more like trying to grab a slick wild boar.

The government was finally able to stop the damage by exerting extreme force over the economy, controlling interest rates, manipulating the money supply, huge bailouts, and, to some extent, regulating the entire financial system.  They then put the pig in a pen.  The pig can move around but is limited by the barriers surrounding it.  The pig never moves to the top or bottom of the pen very forcefully because of the limitations.  When the pig runs into to the top or bottom wall, it instinctively moves back to the middle of the pen.

They scrubbed the grease off the pig, they wrote new rules for the pig, and they nurtured and lectured the pig on proper behavior.  They basically have subjected the pig to the equivalent of helicopter parenting.  You could remove the pen and let the pig run free; however, you don’t know what would happen.  Would you get a nice, clean pig which exhibits proper behavior after years in the pen, or would the wild boar reemerge and start wreaking havoc like before?

This was a topic for debate in the last election.  One argument was to give the pig more freedom and incentive, the other argument was to keep him in the pen.  The pen strategy prevailed. You do tend to want to keep the pig contained, if you doubt your ability to manage it after it’s loose.

The good news is that the pig is prevented from going too far south; the bad news is that it is limited in traveling north.  So we sit in this cycle where the pig moves around, but never really goes too far in either direction.

Therefore, it appears that the economy is just experiencing one of its muffled down cycles.  We have this anemic 0.7% GDP growth for 2015Q4, but the Wall Street Journal Economists Panel is forecasting 2.4% in Q1, and 2.5% growth in 2016 (FTR is at 2.2%).  So, ho hum, nothing to see here, please move along.

A check of the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) Weekly Leading Index Growth Rate confirms this.  This indicator had been a very reliable predictor of recessions in the past.  This index did take a dip in January, just as it did in 2011, 2012, and 2014…and ECRI is not warning of a recession in 2016.

Of course, world economic turmoil could change this.  It would, however, be the equivalent of removing the south end of the pig pen.  Our government would then be challenged with recapturing the pig and would no doubt return it to the pen; because “you see what can happens if the pig is allowed to run free”.

Unfortunately, one of these times when the economy cycles down, it will not stop, but keep declining into a recession.  When that happens people will look at all the charts that were going negative beforehand and exclaim, “How could you have missed that? It was so obvious!” Yes, just as obvious as the numerous times during this recovery when the economy cycled down and then cycled right back up.

Recessions are very difficult to predict under normal conditions, the next one will be even more difficult to forecast.  We may not even find out about the next recession until after it has already ended.  I can confidently say we will not have a recession – until, of course, we do.

This post first appeared on the FTR website.  FTR is the leader in analyzing and forecasting the commercial transportation industry.  For more information on FTR reports and services, please click here.)



Monday, January 11, 2016

A Bumpy Landing for Class 8 Trucks


Class 8 truck orders for Q4 are down 46% versus last year.  The market that looked so strong just a few months ago, has taken a pronounced downturn recently.  Production rates are falling and OEMs are laying off thousands of workers.  What is happening, and why is it happening now?

Industry and financial experts started calling as soon as the signs of trouble started appearing last October.  I reminded people that FTR had been forecasting a Q4 downturn since the beginning of 2015, and now it was indeed happening.  The forecast was built on our Economically Derived Demand model which is designed to predict Class 8 cycles.  I also reiterated that the forecast called for a “soft landing” in 2016.

Not So Soft

My favorite phrase in 2015 was “soft landing.”  I probably said the phrase over 100 times to thousands of people, if you count presentations, reports, webinars, and articles.  “Soft landing” perfectly described what was expected in 2016 and in addition, people liked to hear the phrase because they were fearful of a market crash like 2007-2009.  A relatively mild 13% decrease (for the year after peak) in Class 8 truck build had been forecast for 2016.

Now it appears the landing will not be so soft.  The latest FTR forecast is for a

19% decrease for 2016, with the market at times operating at a rate more than 20% down from just a short time ago.  A bumpy landing, but not a crash as of yet.

Overheating

A major cause of typical Class 8 industry cycles is OEMs overbuilding in the upturn and then having too much inventory, which results in a deeper downturn.  The financial community was very concerned about this happening in 2015.  The OEMs had assured financial analysts that it would be different this time.  When the financial people asked me about it, I said an overbuild was a possibility but shouldn’t be a big issue because we were expecting something called a “soft landing.”

But the market did overheat and now OEMs are sitting on record inventories, which are causing them to slash production rates and lay off workers.  We’ve all seen this movie before, and this is the part that is painful to watch.  If the OEMs were trying to manage demand better this time, what went wrong?

Warning Signs

There was a troubling disconnect early in 2015.  In Q1, retail sales were 12% lower that production.  Although fleets were willing to place humongous orders in 2014Q4, they were not in a hurry to take delivery 4 to 6 months later.  Of course inventories shot up, but that was not thought to be a problem because the market was considered smoking hot (due to high orders and increased production) and trucks were expected to start flying off the dealer lots very soon.

But that never happened.  Retail sales exceeded production in only four months in 2015, and the total net difference for three of those months was a paltry 1,600 trucks.  Under normal conditions, inventories should have peaked in Q2 and then started a linear decline.  Instead, inventories kept right on climbing, peaking in October and falling a paltry 300 units in November.

It would appear fleets overestimated the amount of trucks they would need in the second half of the year.  This “over optimism” spilled over to the dealers, who stocked up in anticipation of increased sales throughout 2015. 

The huge order volumes in 2014Q4 were also driven by concerns of limited production capacity which caused fleets to issue “place holder” orders to secure future build slots in case they were needed.  Many of these orders were cancelled in 2015Q4.  It also appears fleets were more careful in bringing equipment into service after the Great Recession.  They placed big orders and brought the trucks into service more gradually, as needed, then stopped adding equipment when prudent.  All this adds up to another overbuild and record inventories.

Who Gets The Blame?

I don’t think you can blame anyone for the predicament this time.  The OEMs received massive orders and responded.  The fleets saw a strong freight market and the growing need for new equipment for the first time in several years, and displayed strong confidence in the market.  The dealers saw an opportunity for increased sales and thus responded accordingly. 

This is a very cyclical industry, in a free-market economy, driven by forces mostly outside its control, operating in a strong competitive environment. The OEMs competed strongly for all this new business, and this competition is key. It’s similar to being in a race that you are running hard to win, but you do not know where the finish line is.  Under these conditions, you are going to run too far every time.

Other Factors in Play

Unfortunately, this decrease in Class 8 cycle demand comes at a time when the manufacturing sector of the economy is faltering.  The ISM (purchasing managers) Index has been below 50 (indicates contraction) for two months, exports are weak, the energy industry is reeling, and business inventories are bloated.  Some economists are even claiming that we are in a manufacturing recession.  Of course this industrial weakness is pushing truck build down even more than expected.  Without these negative economic factors, maybe the “soft landing” scenario would have played out.

Bumps in the Road

Right now we are nervous because of the production cuts, layoffs, and declining orders.  However, December preliminary orders were almost 28,000, not too shabby in an average year.  Backlogs are still relatively healthy, but high inventories will remain a hindrance to future growth.  Once the smoke clears, the market should find the proper balance, and the runway should smooth out.  We will keep on rolling, just at a slower speed.

What About the Economy?

A drop in commercial equipment demand often precedes a decrease in GDP.  Trucks carry the bulk of freight in the U.S. so less trucks and trailers needed, means less economic growth.

The larger than expected decline in Class 8 truck demand may indicate weaker growth for 2016 compared to 2015.  However, the GDP will be better in Q1 than the previous two years, if this season’s mild winter continues.    
This post first appeared on the FTR website.  FTR is the leader in analyzing and forecasting the commercial transportation industry.  For more information on FTR reports and services, please click here.)