Signs indicate moderate economic growth ahead in transportation and logisitics this year, as strong consumer demand continues to balance weaker industrial conditions, according to presenters at this week's SMC3 JumpStart 2020 conference in Atlanta.
Held January 27-29, the JumpStart conference featured economists, analysts, and industry practitioners offering their insights on the state of freight transportation markets and the broader supply chain. Attendees represented transportation companies, third-party logistics firms, shippers, and technology companies.
"We expect this current freight cycle to bottom during 2020," said Ben Hartford, senior transportation research analyst for management firm Baird, who spoke to SMC3 members on the second day of the conference. Hartford added that he expects a re-acceleration of trends in the second half of the year.
Emory University's Jeffrey Rosensweig agreed, pointing to moderate growth ahead in the United States and other major economies of the world and an overall slowly growing global economy in 2020. Rosensweig is a professor of international business and finance at Emory.
Attendees agreed with the analysts. Live polling during the conference showed that more than half expect U.S. economic growth to hold steady this year, with a third expecting growth to slow "a little." When asked if a recession is on the horizon, most said they don't expect one until 2021.
Freight markets are expected to remain "a little" better than flat this year, according to industry analyst Avery Wise, vice president of trucking research firm FTR. He told attendees freight markets were up about .2% in 2019 and are expected to be up about .7% this year. Wise said that, contrary to some prevailing sentiments, the freight market is not collapsing, "it's just not growing."
Rising insurance costs and labor market challenges, particularly in hiring and retaining truck drivers, remain key headwinds to growth, he added.