Not so long ago the typical freight railcar had a new cost below $50,000. Today, a newly built freight railcar is in the $100,000 to $150,000 range. Both rail and aero assets present long-term investment opportunities. Railcars have up to a fifty-year interchange life. The economic useful life of an aircraft or aircraft engine is the period over which it is expected to be physically and economically feasible to operate in its intended role.1
What ends the life of the equipment is economics (when the cost of operating exceeds the cost of replacing). On average, the life of an aircraft, from purchase to retirement is between 20 to 36 years (Boeing and Airbus build their airframes to last 40 years: 51,000 flight hours and 75,000 pressurization cycles).
Today’s oversupplied secondary markets present opportunities to find value in midlife units. Finding those values requires the ability to identify well-maintained units with remaining service life while evaluating expected service alternatives. It’s the current spread between cost delivered new and secondary market cost that presents these investment opportunities.
The Boeing 757 is an example. Eastern Air Lines placed the original 757-200 in service on January 1, 1983. The last 757 was delivered in 2005. The modern narrowbody alternatives are more fuel-efficient, but the 757 is still active. When COVID appeared over 80% of the world’s 757s were grounded. Before COVID more airfreight was carried in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft than in dedicated freighters. With fewer passenger aircraft flying the parked 757s present the optimal narrow body for freighter conversion. To ensure dedicated freighter aircraft capacity, Atlas Air, the largest operator of 747 cargo aircraft in the world, recently announced it purchased three 747-400 aircraft that were previously leased and reached an agreement with lessors to take ownership of five more aircraft at the end of their existing lease terms next year.
Given the useful economic life of existing railcar equipment and the inflation in new railcar pricing (steel prices are up 215% since March 2020), it makes economic sense to evaluate opportunities to pursue existing rail equipment rather than new ones. Freight rail volumes are being influenced by several challenges, overreliance on global supply chains, the lack of microchips for autos, and the Delta variant, which is upending factory production in Asia. Among all rail traffic categories, Class One’s earned $5.97 billion from grain in 2020 (third behind intermodal and chemicals). But grain exports are down. Hurricane Ida flooded and damaged grain terminals along the Gulf Coast just weeks before the start of the Midwest harvest. More than 50 bulk vessels were lined up along the lower Mississippi in early September waiting to dock and load. On August 29th an all-time high of 47 container ships were at anchor off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach due to lack of berth space.
The strain on global supply chains is evident and Class Ones are hampered by capacity constraints resulting from COVID and the implementation of Precision Scheduled Railroading. With Thanksgiving and the Holidays expect port congestion and labor and capacity shortages at docks, warehouses, and trucking firms to continue.
The economics of logistics and transport investment are complex, but business cycles repeat. Volatility creates opportunity. Leverage our track record of transitioning equipment to its best and highest use. Times are excellent for midlife equipment investment strategies.
To model the equipment markets and manage risk, Call RESIDCO.
1 That’s the International Society of Transport Aircraft Traders’ (“ISTAT”) definition. ‘Longevity’ depends on market need and maintenance expense. Well cared for aircraft can have an almost unlimited life (but only with respect to safety and airworthiness: think the DC-3 aircraft that were in service in the late 1930’s and still fly today).
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