Friday, December 29, 2017

How the "Trump Bump" Impacted Trucking

Note: This content first appeared in Global Trailer Magazine and was written for a foreign audience.  However, it does give a broad overview of the factors that have influenced commercial vehicle sales this year.

The unexpected election of Donald Trump has caused a great deal of political turmoil in the United States. However, the area of Trump’s biggest success has been the business sector, where a rejuvenated economy has boosted freight growth and commercial vehicle sales.

Although there have been few new laws passed, President Trump has been able to influence the economy in other ways. His impact, which is partially symbolic on the economy, trucking, and equipment purchases has been significant.

The Economy

A Shot of Confidence

Following the election, consumer and business confidence indexes spiked. Many of these measurements hit levels not achieved in many years, a couple reached all-time highs. Executives and citizens clearly expected a “businessman president” to be able to improve the economy.

However, business confidence surveys have been traditionally poor economic indicators because they measure attitude, not action (actually spending money). For this reason, many economists dismissed the indexes as a short-term emotional response. However, one of the factors stifling the U.S. economic recovery was fear. Many businesses barely survived the Great Recession and watched competitors go bankrupt. This caused companies to be extremely cautious about investing even years after the recession ended. Therefore, this increase is confidence factor did matter, but it took over half a year to have an impact. Although down from peak levels, most of the confidence indexes remain at elevated levels.


The previous administration enacted and proposed numerous regulations upon business entities and industries, including trucking. It was perceived as an anti-business environment. Trump campaigned strongly against “over-regulation” and, in the first six months as president, cut or delayed over 800 regulations.


The U.S. Government is in a highly dysfunctional state. Although the Republicans hold the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Presidency, they have not been able to pass any important legislation. This “government gridlock” has traditionally created a favorable business environment. U.S. companies desire the stable environment conditions when the government is idle. This leads to increased business investment, which creates jobs and economic growth.


U.S. manufacturing growth also accelerated around mid-year. This was not primarily because of Trump, but of this business cycle. Manufacturing activity slumped late in 2016, impacting the freight and commercial equipment markets. It started to cycle back up early in 2017, but was boosted by the spike of confidence and regulatory rollback discussed previously.


The consumer sector also has been growing all year. The unemployment rate is currently 4.1% (full employment is considered 4.0% due to transition factors). Although there are factors skewing this measurement, there are many more people working than several years ago. Wages have not risen as fast as expected and healthcare continues to eat up a chunk of disposable income, but consumers are spending at a healthy rate.

The Results

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.1% clip in Q2 and is expected to come in at around 3.0% for Q3. This is higher than most economists expected. It appears the spike in confidence after the election had an impact, but it took months before consumers and businesses actually opened their pocketbooks and began spending money. Of course, there are other factors in play, most notably the reemergence of the U.S. oil industry as the price of crude rises.
Interestingly, the biggest hindrance to future growth is lack of available workers. The reasons include:

- Structural Unemployment: Some available workers do not have the skills and training needed for the jobs being created.
- Cultural: Many younger workers prefer not to work in factories or in manual labor-type jobs.
- The Opioid Epidemic: A significant number of potential workers are addicted to pain medication (opioids) or cannot pass an employment drug test.
- Increased Safety Net: After the Great Recession, there were increased social welfare payments, then expanded health insurance benefits. This acts as a disincentive for some potential workers.
- Immigration Enforcement: Some undocumented workers left the country due to immigration laws being enforced.
- Demographics: The “Baby Boom” generation is retiring, and more workers are needed to replace them.

The Trucking Industry

A Much-Improved Business Climate
In March, just two months after Trump’s inauguration, the president of the American Trucking Association, ten leading industry executives, and twelve truck drivers were Trump’s guests at The White House. They discussed issues affecting trucking. They also brought along a high-tech truck/trailer combination in which the president was photographed sitting in the driver’s seat. This was a clear signal of a much friendlier business climate for the industry. The previous administration was perceived to view trucks as something that polluted the air and endangered the highways, and thus heavily regulated the industry.

Freight Growth Accelerates

Naturally, the improved U.S. economy, and especially manufacturing, generated significantly more freight. Freight growth was 2.9% in Q1 and has steadily accelerated throughout the year. Growth is forecast at an impressive 4.6% in Q4, which would bring the total year to 3.6%

Trucking Capacity

After years of slower, manageable growth, fleets struggled to increase capacity. FTR (Freight Transportation Research) estimates Class 8 truck utilization at 95%, much higher than the historical average (88%). Capacity utilization is expected to tighten over the next year, reaching as high as 97%. This has caused problems for shippers who are having problems finding trucks to make on-time deliveries.

Freight Rates

Freight rates have steadily risen as capacity has tightened. Loads and rates in the “spot market” (non-contract) have spiked as shippers seek carriers outside their normal channels to prevent late deliveries. Contract freight rates have not increased very much, but will when the new contracts are negotiated.


The Trump administration did not revoke the requirement for Electronic Log Devices (ELDs), which becomes effective in December. This is because ELDs are a safety measure which ensures drivers follow the already established Hours-of-Service regulations. There has been an extension of when the ELD mandate will be enforced, however.

Most large fleets have already been using ELDs, however many small fleets are waiting until December to implement. History has shown ELD implementation can reduce a fleets productivity up to 10% in the short-term and then around 2-4% after that.

The regulations on trailers regarding the mandated use of glider equipment (tails and skirts) to improve fuel efficiency has been put on hold and is expected to be repealed. Other proposed regulations on trucking have been put under review. However, some safety-related ones may survive.

Driver Shortages

The increase in freight, the loss of productivity, and the retirement of aging drivers has created a high demand for new truck drivers. However, the tight labor market, discussed previously, and the undesirous nature of the job threatens to push the driver shortage to crisis levels. Some fleets already have brand-new trucks parked because they can’t find drivers for them.

Crunch Time

Combine the strong freight growth, productivity loss due to ELDs and a severe driver shortage, and the potential exists for an industry crisis early in 2018. It is difficult to predict the impact or the industry response to this unprecedented circumstance, but shipping disruptions will occur.

Commercial Equipment Markets

Class 8 Trucks

Class 8 truck sales weakened at the end of 2016, and some forecasters, though not FTR, expected the market to suffer a serious correction. However, after the uncertainty over the presidential elections faded and the surge in economic confidence occurred, sales came out of their tailspin and began a steady, moderate recovery. Overall, 2017 production will be decent (248,000 North America) with the second half build much higher than the first. The 2018 forecast is for 300,000, as the 2017 momentum is expected to roll into 2018, based on the factors listed previously.

Commercial Trailers

The North American commercial trailer market had another fantastic year. Production for 2017 is expected to come in at 315,000, a 2% increase from 2016. The trailer market has been uncharacteristically running ahead of the Class 8 market since the third quarter of 2016. This is because fleets were behind in their replacement cycles after the Great Recession. Many dry vans were parked for an extended period as the slow economic recovery continued. This disrupted trade cycles well into 2017.

Fleets are also buying more dry vans to compensate for reduced productivity due to regulations and the driver shortage. The use of drop-and-hook, dropping off one trailer and hooking up a different trailer, has become commonplace. Refrigerated vans and flatbeds also are increasingly doing this.
Refrigerated vans have benefited from a large increase of “temperature-controlled” freight such as pharmaceuticals, medicines, and chemical-sensitive products, etc. Consumer preferences for both fresh and frozen foods have also created more freight moves.

Flatbed (platform) trailers started a strong comeback in 2017. The growth of the industrial sector and the regeneration in the energy markets is creating more flatbed demand.

2018 Outlook

Next year should be more of the same for the North American commercial vehicle market. GDP is forecast at 2.9%. This could go even higher if tax reform is accomplished. Freight will continue to grow, just not at the robust pace of the last two quarters.

This should keep equipment demand vibrant next year. The North American Class 8 build is forecast to come in at 300,000 units, with trailers at 312,000 (down slightly from 2017).

The big concern is capacity constraints. Freight growth and reduced productivity mean more trucks and trailers will be needed. Where the drivers come from to operate the additional trucks is unknown. This does have the potential to crimp equipment purchases in the short-run. It will be interesting to see how this problem gets resolved.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Smooth Sailing But The Winds Are Calming

Note: This post originally appeared of the FTR blog in November.  Some of the economic indicators have been updated since then, however the conclusions and substance of the analysis  have not changed.
GDP has been above 3% for two straight quarters! Business people are giddy with excitement, as business conditions and confidence are at their highest level since the Great Recession. CEOs all the way down to factory workers are hopeful the economy has broken through seven years of the slow-growth recovery and will get even better in the future.
Early this year, the forward-looking economic indicators pointed to higher growth, or 3% GDP, for part of 2017. This combined with antidotal evidence from various industries was my basis for predicting higher economic growth this year. In this case, the view from the ground, talking with knowledgeable business people, was more accurate than the view from the air, the economists.
But where are we now? Are we headed higher or not? It’s time to revisit the indicators to see how 2018 will begin.
Leading Economic Indicators
The ECRI Weekly Leading Growth Index has been declining since peaking in February. It hit 0.8 in September. That was hurricane related, however, because it recovered to 3.2 in October. Similarly, the Conference Board Leading Economic Index has been slightly weaker than earlier this year, and the storms actually put it in negative (-0.2) territory in September.
Although these indicators have weakened, they are still giving positive readings. This is good news in that economic growth should continue into 2018. However, they are not forecasting stronger growth ahead, but a moderate slowdown.
The ISM October PMI for manufacturing was a sturdy 58.7, down 2.1 percentage points from September. However, the forward-looking components of the index remain vibrant. The New Order number was at 63.4%, and backlogs remain solid at 55. In addition, customer inventories are regarded as too low.
Factory orders are growing again after flattening out in the summer. Data from the Philadelphia FED show manufacturing activity at a strong and steady rate for the past six months. Most commodity prices are much higher than a year ago.
This data indicates there is solid support for manufacturing activity in the short-term. It also says there is not impetus present which would push things much higher.
Building Permit data has been basically flat for the past year. The NAHB Builder Confidence Index remains elevated, but hasn’t changed much over the last 12 months. It appears housing with be neither a drag nor a boost to economic growth in 2018.
Business/Economic Confidence
The surveys from Gallup and Moody are still at positive values, just not at the high levels from earlier this year. This is not surprising since expected changes are moving much slower than people anticipated.
Consumers are still consuming at favorable rates. Unemployment is low, and hiring is forecast to continue at steady. The Conference Board Help Wanted OnLine measure increased by 81,500 listings in October. However, my measurement of discretionary spending has been very flat since March. This indicates wages aren’t growing much beyond increases in expenses.
Transportation Equipment Market
Both the Class 8 and commercial trailer markets have slowed some after being robust through September. The pause was unexpected due to freight fundamentals remaining strong; however, it is consistent with the trends of the indicators detailed above. Both markets are expected to regain their momentum early in 2018.
Based on the indicators and data, it does not appear the economy can maintain its +3% growth rate in the medium-term. The good news is that even though the numbers have weakened some, they are still in positive territory.
Therefore, the economy should slow very modestly. It looks like we are still locked in a range where GDP increases moderately and then falls moderately. The difference now is that it is fluctuating at a somewhat higher range, peaks above 3%, than previously. So, it is good news, just not great news.
The Economists View

As a double check, the Wall Street Journal Economists Survey predicts a Q4 GDP of 2.8% and a 2018Q1 of 2.4%. The first quarter has been weaker than expected the last few years, so a drop to 2.4% seems reasonable. However, 12% of the respondents are forecasting a Q1 growth of over 3%.
The recent economic news (since this survey) has been very positive. The “bounce-back” from the hurricanes is providing an economic boost. Now 3% GDP in Q4 looks probable.

The Call
We will top 3% GDP in Q4 due to hurricane recovery and then drop below 3% in Q1. The economy should then resume it’s favorite “recovery” range between 2% to 3%. Of course, tax reform is the current wild card.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Super Gridlock is Super Good for Business

A panelist at the recent FTR (Freight Transportation Research) Transportation Conference reminded us that businesses like it when the government stays out of “their business.” He said companies were benefiting from the new “hands off” environment. He claimed this had improved business confidence, and, more importantly, business performance.

We have seen these conditions before, usually when power in Washington has been divided between the political parties, creating gridlock. Often this results in the government not being able to accomplish much, a “libertarian paradise.” Libertarians would argue that government actions to spur economic growth are often wasteful and ineffective. They also claim regulations, even for noble purposes, are often poorly designed and lead to harmful unintended consequences.

Our current jumbled, toxic, political environment, while harmful in many areas, has created a favorable business climate. This is beyond gridlock, this is super gridlock. Instead of two factions fighting for power, you have three. This is an economic and not political discussion, so I will not get into the motives of the Democrats and the divided Republicans.  

However, if companies love gridlock, they are absolutely giddy about super gridlock. Businesses prefer conditions that are stable and favorable and a government which does nothing to impede growth. And now the government is actually doing less than nothing.

There have been over 800 regulations cut or delayed in the first six months of the new administration. Furthermore, there has been a crimp placed on any new regulations. From a purely economic perspective, this is creating an extremely favorable business environment. It appears now that it is the government being regulated and not businesses.

Soon after the election, business confidence indexes spiked. At the time it was uncertain if this renewal of hope would have any positive outcome on the economy. Would survey results in December eventually turn into dollars? For a while, it looked doubtful, even as the survey numbers remained high. Now it would appear that we have the answer. Yes, the increase in business confidence is beginning to have a positive impact. We just had to wait; Tom Petty was correct, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

At FTR we constantly talk to manufacturers about business conditions, because manufacturing is so tightly connected to freight. Several producers from different industries said they noticed a definite upturn in business in June. A speaker at a recent forum I attended said his bank had noticed a recent surge in small business investment. Anecdotal information is always difficult to process, but now it looks like these statements were valid.

The ISM Manufacturing Index rose to 60.8 in September, the best reading since May 2004. Let this sink in for just a moment. The index says that U.S. manufacturing conditions are at the most positive level in 13 years. In addition, the ISM Services Index is at a 12-year high. My contact in the precision machined products industry says that business spiked near a record high in June, fell some in July, but recovered in August.

Some analysts are saying the hurricanes boosted the September ISM manufacturing number, so watch the October reading carefully. However, the inventory reading of the ISM was low. This means sales are running ahead of production, so production needs to increase. The hurricanes should not have a substantial hit on GDP, the experts say only 30 to 50 basis points in the short-term, with a boost later. The Wall Street Journal economists survey is forecasting GDP growth of 2.7% and 2.5% for Q3 and Q4, respectively. Add the 50 basis points back to Q3, and you get 3.2% GDP. (Now the first GDP estimate is 3.0%, then add .5 and you get 3.5% without hurricanes!) Not too shabby.

Oddly, the biggest hindrance to future growth is lack of workers. The official unemployment rate is down to 4.2%, and large numbers of people are out of the workforce due to opioid abuse, lack of technical skills, and disdain of manual labor. The trucking industry will face this challenge in a few months as more drivers will be needed to haul the growing demand for freight. This, and reduced productivity due to ELDs (Electronic Log Devices), could stress trucking capacity to the max.

The economy has increasing momentum entering 2018. If Congress is able to pass tax reform, it will give business another huge boost. However, don’t get too exuberant just yet, not with super gridlock still in place.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Living in Boomtown?

Things appear to be booming:

-          3% GDP growth in Q2. The word on the street turned out to be more reliable than the economists’ forecasts.

-          Unemployment rate of 4.4%. Economists set “full economic employment” at 4%, because it is estimated that at any time 4% of the labor force is in some form of transition. Unemployment at 4.4% indicates there are jobs available for anyone who wants them. However, this is more complicated in the current job market. There are jobs available which people don’t want either because the wages are insufficient, the safety-net is too safe, they do not prefer manual labor, or the jobs don’t match up to their college degree. There are also open jobs which require a level of technical skill lacking in the available labor pool.

-          Consumer confidence spiked in August to the second highest level since 2000. The job market is growing, home prices are rising, and the stock market is booming. Times may not be as good as 2000, but it’s much better than 2009.

-          Consumers are opening their wallets. Retail sales were up 0.6% in July, and the consumption numbers in the last GDP report were strong. West Coast port activity is up over 10% this year.

-          Manufacturing is also steady, with the August PMI index hitting an impressive 58.8%.

-          Miles driven increased 1.2% y/y in June and 2.2% in May. More people are driving to work and more people are going places, both signs of increased economic activity.

-          Truck freight is sturdy. The FTR forecast is for 3.4% growth for 2017, including an impressive 4.2% y/y growth in Q4.

-          New Class 8 truck and commercial trailer demand are flashing strong positive signs now, and healthy demand is forecasted to continue into next year.

And looking outside my window:

-          Help wanted signs are popping up everywhere. There are two adjacent restaurants with banners near the street competing for workers. There are radio ads for skilled factory workers and truck drivers.

-          The new office complex near my house finally has some tenants. There still are not many cars in the parking lot, but it appears three out of five offices are occupied.

-          The “economic warzone,” which I have previously written about, is not fully recovered, but I now doubt that it ever will be. The abandoned buildings are too old, and new construction provides more attractive options for new businesses. However, traffic through this area has greatly increased.

-          Likewise, traffic on the local highways seems much heavier than a few years ago.

Yes, it looks like boomtown! But how long will this last?

-          The optimist says this is the surge we have been waiting on for eight years. There is renewed confidence, a more business-friendly administration and tremendous pent-up demand. This is the start of something big!

-          The pessimist says this looks a lot like the top of an economic cycle. Everything appears great right before the slide begins. This recovery has lasted much longer than expected, and we are due for a drawback. Things look good now, but you never see it coming.

-          The Wall Street Journal Economists Survey Panel expects growth to fall back to around 2.5% for the next several quarters – but you expected that, right? It is higher than the 2.2% the economy had been stuck at previously. Only 21% of the economists forecast growth at 3% or more in Q3 (before Harvey and Irma). The FTR GDP forecast is close to 3%.

The Call

In this mixed-up economic environment, it is unusually difficult to forecast. That’s why the economists have resorted to predicting “more of the same” for a while. You can’t fault them since most of the forecasts have been good.

When it’s this murky, I tend to be biased towards the transportation markets because they have been reliable economic indicators. These markets say there are more blue skies ahead. Of course, there were blue skies in Florida just last week. You never see it coming ……

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is Manufacturing Ready to Accelerate?

Earlier this year, there was a surge in business confidence in the manufacturing sector of the economy. There were forecasts and predictions of robust growth. However, at mid-year, there is limited evidence of a manufacturing revival and most economists are not factoring a big change into their Q3 and Q4 GDP forecasts. So, what is happening, or more importantly, what is going to happen in the manufacturing sector?

View from The Trucking Industry

Big data collected from indicates spot market (bid freight) is smoking hot. This indicates freight demand is better than the industry expected. The FTR freight forecast shows sturdy freight growth the second half of the year. Orders for Class 8 trucks are up 38% YTD over last year, and the commercial trailer market continues to exceed expectations. These factors would point to improved manufacturing activity which could begin to accelerate soon.

Manufacturing PMI

The June manufacturing PMI (Institute for Supply Management) rose 2.9 percentage points from May to 57.8%. This is the highest reading since August 2014, which, coincidently, just preceded the huge Class 8 truck build in 2015.
The New Orders and Production indexes are upbeat and increasing. Backlogs and Exports are also growing. Inventories are at normal levels and would appear to be a non-factor. The PMI has averaged 56.4 (readings above 50 indicate growth) in 2017.

This index would indicate vigorous manufacturing activity. However, this is a survey and maybe some of the high business optimism is creating a small halo effect here. Also, FTR has identified a lag time of a few months between the index readings and the actual results. This could indicate the manufacturing sector has spent the first six months of the year recovering and retooling for bigger and better results in the second half of the year.

Manufacturing Employment

The May numbers show only 50 basis points of increase versus a year ago. Manufacturing employment has been flat for the last 2.5 years, that’s why it was an election issue. It appears there was enough slack in the system to absorb an increase in output so far this year. Workers are being more productive - it’s the impact of automation. If manufacturing is accelerating, it is not showing up in the employment numbers yet.

Manufacturing Production Data

This measurement increased 1.4% in May, the seventh straight increase. The trend is positive; the pace is moderate. Capacity Utilization is 76.6, slightly down from April. April’s reading was the best since late 2015. This would indicate growth is sturdy.


Exports are up 7.5% YTD. The Commerce Department just reported exports at a two-year-high. A solid performance, and before any trade deals have been renegotiated.

The Fed Manufacturing Indexes

Philly Index – Down 11 points from May, but still positive.

N.Y. Index – Up 21 points to the highest level in more than two years

Dallas Index – Down 11 points from May, but still positive

Richmond Index – Up 6 points in June, but had been much higher earlier in the year.

The indexes are not consistent in direction, but they are all in positive territory. As a group, they are not as strong as a few months ago.


Durable Goods Orders (ex-transportation) up 0.1%. Factory Orders down 0.8%, the second straight decrease in orders. Does this mean manufacturing is losing momentum, or could the big orders have been placed in prior months and ordering activity is taking a respite?


Inventories are down slightly in the latest report, but are at reasonable levels. The inventory/sales ratio is at 1.37 and looks to be in balance. This shouldn’t have a drag on manufacturing activity.    
These gears need to move!

GDP Forecasts

The Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey has GDP at 2.6% in Q3 and 2.5% in Q4, slightly better than the 2.2% standard of recent years. So, most economists do not expect a manufacturing surge the second half of the year. The highest estimate in the survey is 4.1% in Q3 and 4.2% in Q4, no doubt this economist has been talking to some manufacturing people.


It isn’t surprising that the numbers in manufacturing are not consistent and do not point to firm direction. The economic indicators in general have been very hazy the past year. This is an economy of fits and starts, of mild acceleration followed by the tapping of the brakes.

It is clear manufacturing is growing, so we have a direction. The numbers continue to point to stronger, faster growth. The table has been set. The orders have been placed, the machines have been oiled, some regulations have been lifted, and the factories have started to hum. Manufacturing people continue to be upbeat and optimistic, but are they too optimistic? When does confidence turn into currency? When will we see the boost in manufacturing activity show up in the general economic data?

How much manufacturing growth will there be in the next 12 months? Will it continue the uneven path of the past six months, or will it bust out into a sharper upward track? When I don’t know the answer, I like to split the difference. Let’s expect manufacturing to strengthen, but not accelerate. We can use GDP for Q3 and Q4 as a guidepost. At 3% growth = moderate manufacturing growth. Greater than 3% = robust manufacturing growth. At 2.6% or under = not much change in manufacturing output.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Step Right Up and Pick Your Favorite Economic Indicator

Pick an indicator, any indicator…

Flatbed Freight

I recently attended a conference for flatbed fleets owners. These small business owners are extremely bullish on flatbed freight in the second half of the year. Their rosy business outlook mirrors some of the small business confidence surveys that have been reported.

This is significant, because flatbed trailers haul a wide variety of industrial freight from numerous industries. If flatbed freight is strong, then manufacturing and the industrial sectors should be robust as well.

The sentiment from the fleet people is consistent with the FTR forecast which has freight loading increasing over 5% year-over-year in the second half of the year, with flatbed loadings up over 9%. If you choose flatbed freight as your key indicator, the economy is looking robust in the second-half of the year.

The Employment Numbers

Normally, a 4.3% unemployment rate would indicate a vibrant labor market. If you ask someone looking for a professional or living wage job, however, you will probably hear the market is not as good as it seems. Sure, the job market continues to crank out “barista-type” positions at a healthy clip, but that is not what is needed to boost this economy.

The Labor Department just reported that job listings reached an all-time high; however, actual hiring is down about one-third from a year ago. This would indicate structural unemployment (where workers lack the skills for available jobs) is unexpectedly getting worse.

The official unemployment rate is significantly impacted by a low labor participation rate. Aging demographics aside, many potential workers can’t pass a drug test, and the expansion of the safety net during the recession has created disincentives to working. Ask any HR person at a growing company, and they will tell how difficult it is to find new workers.

Yes, there are a decent number of hires reported every month, but wages are not rising fast enough to make a difference, and job growth is still not sufficient to replace jobs lost during the recession. If you select employment as your indicator, you expect just more of the same.

Stocks and Bonds

The stock market is booming, reaching record highs, and some analysts are trumpeting great upside potential. The bond market, however, is flashing yellow, if not red, signaling a slowdown in the economy. So, if you use stocks as a predictor, things are going to boom. If you choose bonds, look out for a bust.

Confidence Surveys

The Business Roundtable said its survey of executive economic outlook hits its highest level in three years. The executives are anticipating new legislation to boost business. If you chose this indicator, it’s boom time for the economy.
However, POTUS approval ratings are in the cellar, raising doubts that anything gets accomplished. If you go with this stat, then the economy gets worse.

Banks Loans

Total bank loans have peaked and have started to fall. The last three times this occurred, recessions followed. If this is your indicator, put your money into gold and run for the hills.

The Forward-Looking Indicators

A few months ago, I predicted stronger growth for the economy this year. This was based on these indicators showing marked improvement. However, the current numbers, while still positive, have slipped a bit. What looked like a trend now appears to be just a normal, moderate upcycle. The type we’ve seen repeatedly in this recovery. These indicators would suggest a strong Q2 and Q3, with a falloff in Q4.

The Economists

The Wall Street Journal economist survey has Q2 GDP at 3.1% (range from 1.6 to 4.0%), Q3 at 2.6%, and Q4 at 2.5%. GDP for 2017 is 2.3%. This makes sense; if there is no clear direction, you must forecast more of the same. 


Pick an indicator, any indicator. Uncertainty still rules as there is no clear direction. In the end, though, it appears we are going to continue to go nowhere slowly.

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