After increasing 3.2% in the third quarter year, the U.S. economy grew at a 2.9% annual rate in last year’s fourth quarter. The Federal Reserve’s preferred price index slowed to 3.2%. Inflation appears to be cooling, but labor, and supply chain challenges remain. Higher interest rates are impacting demand in manufacturing and services. The labor market remains tight. Unemployment is at 3.5%, matching a half-century low. Fourth quarter GDP reflected increases in inventory investment and consumer spending, partly offset by a decrease in housing. 

Whether the Federal Reserve can engineer a soft landing or not, a slowing economy will impact rail freight traffic demand. Rail freight volume growth is now projected to be less than 1% for 2023. Train speed velocity is a key metric that impacts equipment availability. Class One “Scheduled Railroading” operational plans will need to be adjusted to emphasize velocity improvements. Train crew shortages must be resolved. Both the Roads and Rail Shippers face higher new car pricing, driven by railcar production cost, steel and tight component availability. Car availability has tightened as railcar retirements have outpaced new deliveries for the third consecutive year1. Railcars in storage are down. Thirty-seven percent of the stored fleet has been inactive for over 1 year and will either be scrapped or repurposed if economically possible. Covered hoppers are being converted to from 3,250 to 4,751 cubic feet, allowing different product service such as potash, sugar, grain, and distillers dried grains. Suboptimal units in storage are likely to be scrapped. Tight equipment supply is supporting existing car pricing and lease renewal rates for both originations and renewals. 

Demand for air travel continues to outpace the industry’s ability to meet it. United, Delta, and American are all reporting resilient demand, seats packed and fares higher. Delayed new aircraft deliveries are restricting the industry’s ability to adequately respond to the rebound in passenger demand. At United’s January 18th earnings call, Scott Kirby, United’s chief executive, argued fundamental changes have occurred: “Across the board there are supply-chain constraints, technology infrastructure issues, a pilot shortage, workforce constraints (lower experience levels of new hires) and, airframers are struggling to meet delivery targets.” A logjam in engine repair capacity has left planes grounded as their engines are late coming out of overhaul. During last summer, more than 1,300 aircraft were returned to service from storage. Compared to pre-COVID levels more than 1,700 single-aisles and 900 twin-aisles remain in storage2. Detailed analysis of the stored single-aisle units project 60% are projected to return to service3

Yields on short-term Treasurys have held above those of longer-term debt, a signal to expect slowing growth. Globalization isn’t dead but changing. More attention is being paid to geoeconomic risk. Nations are balancing growth and low inflation against defending national interests. While the risk of a recession cannot be dismissed, the odds of a soft landing are getting better. With Covid receding, longer run issues are coming into focus. Prices are likely to go higher as constrained supply continues to drive equipment values and lease rates

Concerned about the path of demand and inflation? Call RESIDCO

Glenn Davis, 312-635-3161

[1] Greenbrier CEO Lorie Tekorius, Midwest Rail Shippers Winter Conference, 2023 Rail Equipment Update, January 18, 2023

[2] Cirium Fleets Analyzer, Western-built passenger jets, New Year Resolutions, January 26, 2023

[3] Ibid.

The International Air Travel Association expects the global aero industry to earn a $4.7 billion profit in 2023. U.S. and major European air carriers are better off than Asian (particularly China) carriers. Coming out of the pandemic, pent up air travel demand increased domestic load factors. Equipment and labor became operational challenges. As capital costs increased lease rates climbed. Both major airframers, Boeing and Airbus, continue to deal with supply chain issues1 and are unable to ramp up production as much as they would like. Inflation continues to drive increasing labor costs. Delta pilots reached an agreement (after three and a half years of negotiations) for an immediate 18% pay raise and a cumulative raise of 34% after three years. To deal with the pilot shortage, single pilot commercial aircraft operations are being explored. Over 40 countries including Germany and the United Kingdom have asked the United Nations body that sets aviation standards to help enable single-pilot flights. In November, Congressional action blocked a rail strike with a 24% pay increase over five years through 2024. 

The $1.65 trillion Omnibus Appropriations bill funds the government through September 30, 2023. More spending will drive inflation down and continue job market strength. The Services PMI strengthened in November and is firmly in “expansion” mode. According to the “third” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.2% in the third quarter. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports over the last 12 months the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers increased 7.1% before seasonal adjustment2. At its December 14, 2022 meeting, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate a half-point to a range of 4.25% to 4.5% (its highest level in 15 years). All indications point to higher rates in 2023.

Exemptions for the 737 Max 7 and 10 were included in the Omnibus Appropriations bill. Requirements include retrofitting with a synthetic enhanced angle-of-attack system and the ability to shut off stall warning and overspeed alerts. The retrofit work is to be completed (at Boeing’s expense) within three years from the time the 737 MAX 10 is certified and will be required on all 737 MAX jets.

Forecast farm net income is expected to surge to $160.5 billion this year3, the highest since 1973 when adjusted for inflation. Prices for corn and wheat have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Reduced grain stock and continued pressure on Black Sea exports mean pricing strength will continue. Carloads of chemicals and grain are the second and third highest volume carload commodities for railroads. Carloads of coal are the single highest volume carload commodity4 at 28.4%, twice as much as chemicals at 14.2%, and three times as much as grain 9.6%. The International Energy Agency has stated, “Coal will continue to be the global energy system’s largest single source.” In Europe, coal use has returned with coal plants brought back online. In the first two weeks of December, Germany generated 49% more power with coal than in the same period a year ago as Russian coal has been banned as a result of sanctions on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite current macroeconomic conditions, lessors and equipment producers are seeing higher lease rates and equipment demand. We’re optimistic about 2023 opportunities. Call RESIDCO.

Glenn Davis, 312-635-3161

[1] Boeing suspends Russian titanium as Airbus keeps buying, Mar. 2022

[2] CPI Up 7.1% over the year ended November 2022, Dec. 2022

[3] High Commodity Prices Feed a Boom in the U.S. Farm Belt, Dec. 2022

[4] Rail Traffic for December and the Week Ending December 31, 2022, Dec. 2022

In an environment where uncertainty is commonplace, investment in transportation equipment is often driven by residual value estimates as lenders and lessors compete for market share. Many factors influence the future value of equipment. Most are not very predictable. All require an active aftermarket for the asset under consideration. Physical factors include wear and tear and useful life estimates. Technical factors impact value when newer (more efficient) designs appear causing demand factors to change. Regulatory factors occur from time to time as government imposes new requirements. The FAA’s current review of the 737 Max MCAS and safety procedures for earlier 737 models is an example. Additional flight crew training is expected (even on the 737NG models) including emergency procedures, maintenance training, and an evaluation of pilot response times. Macroeconomics, tax regimes, and global trade impact pricing. In both expanding and contracting markets, investors and their advisors track the behavior of sale prices purchased new, when returned from lease and sold into the secondary market, and similarly track lease rates for short, mid, and longer term leases. In these different environments releasing at lease end, prior to sale, adds value and reduces investment risk.

Residual valuation estimates future equipment value by establishing a relationship between the historical price of equipment and the most appropriate relevant factors. It is particularly useful when making long term investment decisions for both aviation or rail assets. Once you identify factor relationships you have access to a wide body of knowledge about basic economic variables such as GDP, interest rates, commodity pricing, and the impact of international politics on global trade. This is important simply because there are more experts with reasoned views on these topics than there are on the future pricing of air and rail assets.

A key component in this process involves estimating correlation between the various factors. Estimates of value are described in terms of a distribution rather than a point estimate. Standard deviation is a measure of risk and variability of returns. The higher the standard deviation, the higher the ‘riskiness’ of an investment. In simple terms, the standard deviation measures how much variance exists around the average. The coefficient of variation is useful in determining which investments have more relative risk when investments have different average returns. The coefficient of variation tells us the probability of experiencing a return close to the ‘average’ return. The higher the coefficient of variation, the riskier an investment per unit of return. Covariance is a measure of how price movements between investments are related to one another. Correlation is a scaled version of covariance that takes on values between -1 and +1. A correlation of +1 denotes that two assets are positively correlated. A correlation of zero denotes that assets are completely uncorrelated. A correlation of -1 denotes a perfectly negative correlation.

Investors are rational. Markets are efficient. Managing portfolio risk in an uncertain environment recognizes values can increase as well as decrease. Your tools should incorporate disciplined analysis combined with optimal use of available information. Uncertainty requires understanding there are factors which cannot be quantified.

Forethought, diligence, statistical analysis, confidence in equipment alternatives. Sound decision making in real time. Looking for Alpha? Call RESIDCO.

The Importance of Infrastructure

Infrastructure is one of the main factors of economic growth. This includes power, water, telecommunications, ports, roads, and rail. In a report by McKinsey Global Institute, the projected requirement for infrastructure investment is estimated to reach $57 trillion dollars from 2013-2030. This is to keep up with global GDP growth targets. According to PWC, globalization enabled free movement and distribution of goods around the world, while travel and people to people linkages enabled the movement of data and currency. Such massive activity is only possible through physical and digital infrastructure. Due to the expected shift in economic and demographic trends, there is an enormous need for boost infrastructure spending.

According to the Business Roundtable, statistics show the need for improvement in America’s infrastructure spending: the infrastructure quality of the U.S. currently ranks at no. 16 globally, behind France, Japan, and Germany. Among the world’s top 50 airports, the U.S. only has 4 included in the list; delays and congestion have amounted to $24 billion losses in 2012 alone. Around 25% of rails around the country is marked as “good” or “excellent.” Clearly, there is a lot of room for improvement. The U.S. economy would greatly benefit from massive infrastructure spending.

An article by the Council of Foreign Relations mentioned the current state of U.S. transportation infrastructure. Many highways and bridges in the U.S. will reach the end of their maximum expected lifespan, thus the need for adequate capital investment in order to conduct major repairs to these infrastructures. The last era where transportation infrastructure has benefited was during former President Eisenhower’s time until the 1980s. Afterward, spending on transportation infrastructure has significantly declined.

Short and Long-term Benefits of Infrastructure Investment

Infrastructure investment can have short-term and long-term economic benefits.  Building and construction efforts will result in a boost in employment; more jobs will be created. Long term gains involve sustained economic growth with greater benefit for the population, with better services and smoother flow of people, goods, and services associated with high-quality transportation, better roads, rail, airports, and seaports, among others.

Admittedly, transportation infrastructure requires a significant amount of capital investment, and traditional government funds may not be enough. This is where the private sector can come in. The Financial Times mentioned that some policy experts advocate for greater private sector involvement in infrastructure investments, mainly through public-private partnerships or PPPs. PPPs are projects done in long-term contracts, with direct cooperation between the public and private sector. Private capital can then fund infrastructure through municipal bonds. Ultimately, there are risks and returns to be considered but this may vary depending on the project involved. As mentioned in the article, a public-private sector partnership may result in lower costs in terms of technological or operational components or expertise, compared to a public sector-led initiative.

The bottom line is that there is a massive need for transportation infrastructure investment in the United States, and there is no better time to invest than now. Investing in transport infrastructure means investing in the future and ensuring long-term economic benefits for the country. This unique opportunity is sustainable and its effects are long lasting. As emphasized in the Business Roundtable report, the following benefits can be obtained with increased investments in the transportation infrastructure:

Increased GDP growth – investment in transportation infrastructure will generate more jobs; the maintenance and repair projects will further boost employment and create jobs that are permanent and well-paying, which can benefit the middle class, resulting in an increase in GDP growth.

Increased productivity – Efficient and modern infrastructure translates to greater productivity by improving safety, reducing labor costs, fuel expenditures, travel time and other unnecessary effects of uncertainty. Supply chains run more smoothly and the cost of doing business is lower.

Increased international competitiveness – High-quality infrastructure will attract foreign direct investments and encourage businesses to expand their operations.

Investing in Transportation Infrastructure

Investment in transportation infrastructure will result in highly sustainable, short- and long-term economic gains.  It is a win-win solution and a unique opportunity that businesses should take advantage of. Infrastructure plays a crucial role in providing employment opportunities, increasing productivity and boosting international competitiveness, and is a proven key factor in driving economic growth. To know more about investing in transportation infrastructure, call or visit RESIDCO for more details.