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Transportation Update | May 2021


• U.S. economy sees a disappointingly small gain of 266,000 jobs in April. 
• ISM manufacturing index pulls back a bit on production, employment challenges.
• April soars past March’s record in grants of operating authority for new trucking firms.
• Truck spot market sets volume and rate records.
• Intermodal and rail carload volumes were little changed in the latest week.

Exclusive analysis from our SOF INSIGHTS publication - available to premium subscriber clients. Learn about subscribing to our monthly Trucking Update or Shippers Update intelligence services.

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U.S. Economic Outlook | April/May, 2021

The past three months have unfolded in generally a positive fashion. The winter surge has ended, and rapid expansion of vaccination has occurred. As we expected the economic restart produced solid growth in Q1, which we expect to continue for the rest of 2021. But all is not sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, as evidenced by a weak April jobs number.

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Economy discussion: We do not recommend complacency

We think our forecast scenario is reasonable, especially for the next few quarters. At the same time we have a gut feeling that it is optimistic. As we have been saying for more than a year, we are in an unprecedented situation with many uncertainties. These involve different time frames and cut in different directions. Some could offset; some could be synergistic. Probabilities are impossible to calculate.

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Ake’s Take: Retail Sales Are Vibrant – Where Is The Money Going?

The federal government has pumped $850 billion of direct stimulus payments to citizens in response to the pandemic (Peter G. Peterson Foundation). In combination with the COVID health mobility restrictions, this cash infusion resulted in changes in retail spending patterns. Since the pandemic started, there has been a surge in retail goods spending as consumers had more money to spend and service spending was severely curtailed.

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The future is near: A look at hydrogen vehicles

Moving to a future technology is a constant process. Technology is constantly evolving and changing the world we live in. We do not live in an idle universe. A few years ago, electric engines were in low numbers, although the technology is as old as the internal combustion engine. Today, there are large numbers of electric cars and a growing number of EV trucks on the highways. In the future, there will be millions of electric cars and perhaps hundreds of thousands of trucks. The changes are not only driven by technology, but also by government policy in a quest to have a carbon-free future. Although the future will see a lot of electric cars and light trucks, the conversion of the commercial truck fleets into an all-electric future is more mixed. Battery-powered commercial trucks are a viable alternative to an internal combustion engine, but this must be framed in the doable universe. Although battery-operated trucks will gain market share in coming years, they are not the perfect solution to all of trucking’s needs. Battery-powered trucks still face an uphill climb to the long-haul market. The future of long-haul trucking may well depend on the emergence of a fuel cell vehicle or even a hydrogen-powered vehicle in the quest for a carbon-free future.

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