For the past thirty years global supply chains helped keep U.S. inflation low. Globalization led to offshoring. Aero and Rail transport system efficiencies allowed ‘just in time’ inventory control. The pandemic exposed the over reliance on global supply chains. The U.S. fiscal policy response to the pandemic’s impact included more than $5 trillion of direct cash payments to individuals and businesses in 2020/2021. The Federal Reserve engaged in large scale asset purchase programs and kept interest rates too low for too long. Both have been a part of driving inflation to a forty year high. Supply chains never fully recovered from the pandemic’s shock. Now, Ukraine and geopolitical tensions between Western democracies, Russia, and China, are rising commodity costs (and security risks) even further. In response to the Federal Reserve raising interest rates1 in an attempt to fight inflation and get price growth under control, U.S. private sector business activity is contracting, in August the Composite Purchasing Managers Index to 45 from 47.7 and the Services PMI to 44.1 from 47.3.

Rail service issues are currently driving rail equipment demand. Shippers continue to complain to the Surface Transportation Board about railcar order delays and “unfilled railcar orders.” Each Class One reports “unfilled orders” slightly differently but generally it is the number of railcars a shipper ordered but did not receive. The STB recently issued an emergency service order directing the Union Pacific railroad to meet its common carrier obligations to a large California poultry and feed producer which leases four unit trains from UP as part of its grain-train shuttle program. Union Pacific was forced to add a fifth train set and prioritize both train crews and locomotives to meet its common carrier obligation. System congestion has forced the STB to order the four largest Class One railroads to submit weekly performance data as well as recovery plans. 

Rail fleet utilization and lease renewal rates have risen in response. Trinity Industries reported a 97.2% lease fleet utilization, 4,335 new unit and delivery railcar orders, and 2,510 deliveries of units in its second quarter (industry wide railcar deliveries for the full year are expected to be between 40,000 and 50,000 units). The Greenbrier Companies reported new railcar backlogs of $3.6 billion and continued high lease fleet utilization in its rail leasing subsidiary. As rail labor issues persist a shutdown of the nation’s rail network is possible on September 16th, marking thirty days since the release of the Presidential Emergency Board recommendations for voluntary settlement of a 31 month labor dispute over wage, benefits, and work rules. Congressional intervention is all that would prevent a national shutdown.

Boeing resumed deliveries of its widebody 787 in August with American Airlines taking delivery of the first Dreamliner since May of 2021. American Airlines expects to take nine 787/8s this year, four in 2023 and twelve in 2024. Boeing launched the Dreamliner in 2004 and eighty customers have ordered nearly 1500 787s. Global air freight traffic is up and the passenger to freighter conversion backlog is over 550 units. The shift to e-commerce is driving air freight and market fundamentals are expected to remain strong. An example; Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc is being taken private by Apollo Global Management in an all cash deal valued at $5.2 billion2, a 57% premium over the 30-day average trading price of Atlas’ common stock. On the Rail side, J.P. Morgan’s Global Alternatives’ Global Transportation Group recently announced its acquisition of the InStar Group, LLC., a freight railcar lessor.

Investment strategies, financing, and tax risk management all impact the evaluation of transportation equipment leasing. Near term market disruptions have created opportunities for longer term transportation asset investment. Call RESIDCO

Glenn Davis, 312-635-3161

[1] Jerome Powell says Fed is resolved to fight inflation even if it brings economic pain

[2]  Atlas Air Worldwide to be Acquired by Investor Group Led by Apollo Together With J.F. Lehman & Company And Hill City Capital for $5.2 Billion

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