Still no easy answers when it comes to the economy

Waiting for me in my ridiculously crowded inbox this morning was an e-mail from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which informed me that economic activity—i.e. the Gross Domestic Product—in the third quarter grew at a rate of 2 percent.

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Waiting for me in my ridiculously crowded inbox this morning was an e-mail from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which informed me that economic activity—i.e. the Gross Domestic Product—in the third quarter grew at a rate of 2 percent.

While this figure is certain not to get anyone excited about the pace of the economic recovery we all hear about, it is not altogether terrible either. Why? Well, the optimist in me says that it is at least better than the 1.7 percent GDP we saw in the second quarter. But the pessimist in me sees that it is down from the first quarter’s 3.7 percent clip.

As you can see by these numbers, things are moving along on the economic side, albeit very, very slowly. And we are seeing this case of economic stops and starts on the freight side, too.

A few economic indicators we look at tell that story pretty clearly. These things include; the American Trucking Associations monthly truck tonnage data, which saw slight sequential growth in September on a seasonally-adjusted basis; strong but declining West Coast Port TEU tallies; and steady and occasionally very impressive weekly carload and intermodal volumes released by the Association of American Railroads.

One thing these types of freight/economic indicators all have in common is that when it comes to seeing consistent and meaningful economic growth, there are no easy answers. Not exactly news, I know, but it is truly the elephant in the corner, it seems.

There simply is no getting around the fact that the economy is still in a rough place. Are things better than a year ago? Yes. But, still, more needs to happen.

That is where the holiday shopping season comes in. Talk about the biggest and most timely (and ubiquitous) economic indicator there is. I am cautiously expecting malls to get more crowded every time I go to one between now and the end of December. Yes, there is the obvious seasonality factor that comes with that thought. But seeing how busy—and how well prepared— retailers are for whatever happens will be quite telling, even though overall expectations are, understandably, relatively low for obvious reasons (see high unemployment rate at the top of the list).

That much was made obvious by the National Retail Federation’s recent 2.3 percent year-over-year growth forecast for this year’s holiday shopping season.

In any event, the economy continues to zig and zag, leaving us, as per the usual at this point, with more questions than answers. Stay tuned for a lot more uncertainty as we all try to navigate this storm.

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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