Global growth continues but is expected to slow to 4.1% in 2022 (down from 5.5% in 2021[1]). In the U.S., 2022’s growth is expected to be 3.7% (down from 5.6% in 2021). In the fourth quarter of last year, the U.S. GDP grew at a 6.9% annualized rate. With the domestic economy stronger, inflation has returned and labor markets are much tighter. Unemployment is down to 3.9% (December) from a record 14.7% in April 2020. The Fed is set to raise rates and conclude its purchases of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities[2]. Expect a ‘bumpy’ transition. 

Air carrier operations staff shortages and quarantine rules for air crew members complicated flight operations and led to flight cancellations last quarter. Fleet equipment and air crew planning became a challenge, even for freighter operations. In the fourth quarter of 2021, United lost $646 million, American $931 million, and Delta $408 million. Southwest reported net income of $68 million, its first quarterly profit during the pandemic (without the help of government aid). The good news is domestic leisure travel demand is back, and above 2019 levels (business and international travel recovery remains delayed). Carriers are facing steeper costs for labor and fuel. Jet fuel cost is expected to rise to $2.35 to $2.50 a gallon in the first three months of 2022, up from $2.10 a gallon in last year’s fourth quarter. Crude oil pricing is at its highest level since 2014 (West Texas Intermediate, the main grade of U.S. crude was up to $86.61 January 27th). Flight operations are being further disrupted by the 5G rollout, which impacts the reliability of radio altimeters used for low visibility approaches at airports with runways close to 5G C-band network antennas. 

Boeing sold more aircraft than Airbus last year, but delivered half as many passenger jets. Boeing won orders for 909 planes (535 net new orders), while delivering 280 (up from 157 delivered in 2020). Airbus delivered 611 jets in 2021 and won orders for 771 (507 net). Backlogs for both airframe competitors extend out over the next several years. Boeing remains hampered by its 737 MAX crisis and production issues with its 787 Dreamliner (100 undelivered Dreamliners wait for regulatory approval). While Airbus’ A321neo family is outselling Boeing units, Boeing’s equipment availability led Allegiant to buy up to 100 MAX jets (new Airbus units could not be delivered until the end of the decade). A 12-year maintenance agreement with the engine provider (CFM International) is expected to lower Allegiant’s operating cost. United’s 777s (Pratt & Whitney engines) are expected to return to service this quarter. Qatar Airways recently agreed to purchase 34 freighter versions of Boeing’s 777X (777-8), which are not expected to be delivered until late 2023 at the earliest. Once the pandemic fades, air carriers are expecting traffic to surge.

Because of infection or Covid exposure, rail operations performance were similarly impacted by lack of operating crews on any given day. CSX is facing staffing shortages, offering $3,000 referral bonuses for recommendations for new hires, and spending $20 Million on initiatives to attract and retain workers. Slower train speeds, higher steel prices and railcar scrapping are helping support the railcar leasing markets.

As the Fed raises rates and global tensions continue (Ukraine, Taiwan) this year’s recovery will be bumpy and characterized by market volatility and inflation. With the improving outlook, inflation in new equipment pricing will favorably impact existing mid-life asset values and lease rates. To identify those investment strategies that unlock air and rail equipment values,

Call RESIDCO.

Glenn P. Davis, 312-635-3161

davis@residco.com

[1] World Bank forecast, January 11, 2022.

[2] The Fed balance sheet is now approaching $9 trillion, $8.3 trillion comprised of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.

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