Domestic economies are beginning to reopen as evidenced by the number of TSA airport security screening checks.  They totaled 87,534 April 14th and by May 25th had tripled to 257,451.  “We’re past the trough in terms of peak damage”.  Much of the pickup reflects the states’ decisions to open parts of their economies.  While global supply chains remain fragile the mechanics of transportation decision making remain unchanged.  What is the payoff from the trip? Is it high value/time-sensitive? Where is traffic currently being allowed, and what mode is most cost-efficient?  

Globalization fostered the ever-increasing specialization of labor across countries.  The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the weakness of over-reliance on extended supply chains, whether for manufacturing automobiles, aircraft, or pharmaceuticals. ‘Just in time’ easily can become ‘just too late’. An example: the U.S. relies heavily on Mexico for parts and vehicle production.  Thirty-nine percent of auto parts ($60.8 billion) were imported from Mexico in 2019. Without Mexico, the Detroit auto industry will be unable to effectively restart production. Going forward the private sector must re-examine supply links, border restrictions, risks, and define solutions.  

Increased taxes financed the spending that helped the U.S. get out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  From 1929 to 1939 the corporate tax rate rose from 11% to 19%, capital gains tax rates went up from 12.5% to 22.5%, and personal income tax rates jumped from 24% to 62% (the top marginal rate was 91% in 1960).  With the current level of deficit spending and lost tax revenues due to lockdowns, it’s not hard to imagine higher taxes. But borrowing now amounts to a transfer of economic activity from the future to the present.  

With air travel demand picking up, how full will planes be? Single-aisle airframes generally have 3+3 seating. Leaving all middle seats vacant implies a maximum load factor of 67%.  On a fleet-wide basis, the International Air Transport Association has said “social distancing would mean a maximum load factor of 62%.”  That would require a different business model than the airlines have been using.  Break-even loads vary with changing cost and airfare fluctuations (in 2019, the systemwide beak even load factor was 73.8% while the actual load factor was 84.6%).  

Class One Railroad operations remain strong with freight car velocity, terminal dwell, and car trip compliance improving. The Roads are running fewer and longer trains on tight schedules (Precision Scheduled Railroading). As traffic has declined, crews, locomotives, and freight car resources are being ‘balanced’ to meet the lower current volumes and improve operating ratios. New equipment deliveries are down and an equipment surplus hangs over the industry.     

The Global economy: the European Union’s borders remain closed to non-nationals until mid-June, and China has suspended entry of foreign nationals. U.S. tensions with China are escalating over trade, technology theft, the coronavirus, and Hong Kong’s independence. Managing a transportation portfolio in this turbulent ‘New Normal’ requires an ability to identify and seize opportunities the markets are currently offering. As demand recovers, focus on improving your odds of success. Call RESIDCO.

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