CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
March 29, 2020
Forward Thinking

Strong consumer spending staves off recession warnings, U.S. Bank says

Shippers produced "fairly flat" volume of freight shipments and spending in third quarter, report says.

Shippers sustained a "fairly flat" volume of freight shipments and spending in the third quarter compared to the previous period, despite some economic signals suggesting a looming economic recession, U.S. Bank said Wednesday.

The company's quarterly "U.S. Bank Freight Payment Index" showed that freight shipment volumes and spend by organizations shipping goods changed very little compared to the second quarter, the Minneapolis-based bank said.U.S. Bank Freight Payment Index

"Against an economic backdrop which suggested both indexes might be down, the data indicated shipments increasing, and spend slowing down, slightly. Third quarter results are not consistent with some predictions that an economic recession is around the bend," U.S. Bank said 

The statistics were led by continuing strength in the retail sector, where sales "were off pace from 2018 but remained at high levels," the report found. Overall, third quarter shipments were up slightly while spending was down moderately, new-home construction stayed steady, and factory output decelerated.

Those trends align with other recent economic reports finding that U.S. manufacturing and international trade figures are faltering, but that U.S. consumer spending and e-commerce growth continue to burn brightly.

That assessment is on track to continue through the crucial peak holiday season, according to a report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF). The group's annual survey of shoppers showed that consumers say they will spend an average of $1,047.83 this holiday season, up 4 percent from the $1,007.24 they said they would spend last year. To meet that demand, retailers are expected to import near-record volumes of merchandise ahead of the tariffs that are scheduled to take effect on a wide range of consumer goods from China on December 15, NRF said.

Despite the continued demand for shipping and retail services, the forecast remains cloudy for the trucking industry that moves all that inventory, the U.S. Bank report noted.

"The significant rise in the freight spend volume compared to the third quarter of 2018 is good news leading into the 2019 holiday season," Bobby Holland, U.S. Bank vice president and director of Freight Data Solutions, said in a release. "But we remain cautious with our level of optimism. While consumer spending appears to be the driving force behind a lot of the increased spending, we have to contrast that positive news with the knowledge that more and more motor carriers continue to exit the business, and that's a trend that could continue."

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