Investment and financing decisions involve an evaluation of risk, amount and timing of cash flows, and expected equipment values over an investment horizon. The outlook for Aero and Rail cash flows for the balance of 2022 have changed as the Global community reacts to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even though Russia is a signatory to the Cape Town Convention it is holding more than 500 Western owned aircraft inside its borders in response to the European Union requiring lessors to terminate contracts with Russian airlines by March 28. Operating in an environment without the oversight of Western regulators will impact the value of these units when (if) they are recovered. Its evident values are lost when social and economic cooperation is stressed.

The U.S. has banned imports or is increasing tariffs on Russia’s top products including crude oil, petroleum, petroleum fuels, liquefied natural gas, coal, and iron and steel. Russia and Ukraine combined are the world’s second largest steel exporters and together supply almost one-third of the world’s wheat, a quarter of its barley, and three-quarters of its sunflower oil. Companies (and Countries) that rely on these products and raw materials will suffer. Crude oil and steel prices are up. Energy security in the U.S. (and more so in Europe), is now more important. Falling back on fossil fuels (coal), and boosting drilling is a likely immediate path for the U.S. as the transition to renewables will take years to accomplish.

Domestic freight rail will benefit. The conflict will drive U.S. domestic transport of agricultural and petroleum products, crude oil and coal. Recall that according to the American Association of Railroads, moving freight by rail is 4 times more fuel efficient than moving freight on the highways. Trains can move a ton of freight approximately 492 miles on a single gallon of fuel. On the aviation side, fuel is typically an airline’s second biggest expense after labor. But the surge in domestic air travel[1] is allowing air carriers to cover fuel price increases. In February, domestic ticket bookings and revenue rose above 2019 levels (for the first time since March 2020), and corporate travel booking has reached 70% of 2019 levels, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

In recent quarterly earnings calls railcar manufacturers and lessors are upbeat about rail market prospects. Rail traffic is continuing to improve driving fleet utilization, new equipment orders and lease renewal rates. Fourth quarter 2021 freight railcar orders grew by more than 50% from the third quarter. Orders in the fourth quarter of 2021 were 13,477 railcars compared to 8,607 railcars in the fourth quarter of 2020. The order backlog has increased sequentially for the past five quarters. Total rail carloads for the week ending March 19 were 232,770 carloads, up 1.1 percent compared with the same week in 2021. Five of 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2021 including coal, up 4,182 carloads to 63,929; chemicals, up 2,656 carloads to 34,178; and nonmetallic minerals, up 1,984 carloads to 31,151.

With the Consumer Price Index up 7.9% over the last 12 months the Fed is raising interest rates (.25% at its March meeting[2]). Expectations are rates will rise at each of the remaining Fed meetings this year while balance sheet reductions could start in May. Odds don’t favor stability as Geopolitical risk has splintered Globalization. Negative real rates persist and will continue to drive asset values up.

Be prepared for turbulence. Opportunities exist. Call RESIDCO.

Glenn P. Davis, 312-635-3161

[1] “We’re seeing an increase in demand that is really unparalleled” Delta Air Lines, investor conference, March 2022.

[2]  Rates were last raised in December 2018

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