During these difficult economic times, there are some reasons for optimism

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · May 27, 2020

Given the travails of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on current economic conditions, it can be very difficult to remain positive about most things related to the economy.

That is highlighted by the vast amount of data and economic indicators we all look at. And there are many, to be sure, whether it is GDP, unemployment numbers, retail sales, manufacturing output, consumer confidence, modal tonnage, volumes, throughput, and more, too.

To be sure, many of these data points are in unprecedented territory, as we have never been through a situation like the one we are currently in. But maybe just maybe things are (slowly) turning the corner to a more positive economic outlook. I hesitate to say there are “green shoots” occurring, at least not yet. But two things I came across earlier this week, at the very least, provide some economic hope and positivity, which is sorely needed.

The first one was a blog post from Portland, Oregon-based freight marketplace platform and information provider DAT, which featured the headline “Freight markets slowly coming back to life.”

How can anyone not welcome that headline, given what the last several weeks have been like?

In short, the DAT blog post, which was written by Matt Sullivan, DAT Carrier News Editor, explained in its lede that: “Freight markets have been slowly rebounding in May, with the normal seasonal uptick providing some relief for transportation companies that have suffered during the COVID-19 crisis.”

That is great to hear, of course. And it also noted that “with some businesses starting to reopen and the country looking for its economic footing, demand for truckload shipments is picking up,” which DAT’s Sullivan observed is being reflected in steady increases in load-to-truck ratios in recent weeks. What’s more, the blog added that these increases represent tighter capacity that has, in turn, pushed truckload rates higher, especially for produce regions that are seeing harvests hitting supply chains.

But while these are positive developments, DAT cautioned that May’s national van rate average—at $1.57 per mile—is off compared to April, which DAT’s Sullivan noted is the case because the pace of these aforementioned improvements has not matched the pace at which freight markets tanked in April, with myriad carriers still struggling.

OK, so while that last part is not as positive as the other parts referenced, it is still a start.

The second thing I came across was an article in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, which came with this (also positive) headline: “For Economy, Worst of Coronavirus Shutdowns May Be Over.”

The lede for this article read as follows: “Truck loads are growing again Air travel and hotel bookings are up slightly. Mortgage applications are rising. And more people are applying to open new businesses. These are among some early signs the U.S. economy is, ever so slowly, creeping back to life.”

The wide-ranging article went on to note that myriad data indicates that the U.S. remained “mired in a severe downturn in April and May,” due largely to depressed business activity and increasing unemployment levels. But it is not all bad, as it also indicated those two things, while still occurring, are happening at slower rates than compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

And here is the money quote, if you will: “But, for the first time since the pandemic forced widespread U.S. business closures in March, it appears conditions in some corners of the economy aren’t getting worse, and might even be improving.”

You can interpret that any way you like, but it beats the alternative. That much is certain. Is it way too early to take any type of meaningful economic victory lap? Well, of course, it is, and that clearly goes without saying. But, at the same time, it represents a glimmer of hope, when all not that long ago, hope was something in very short supply for many.

Make no mistake that there are miles to go before we get back to seeing anything close to a return to normal. So, for now, we take what we can get and move on to the next day and hope it is a better one than today.

May 27, 2020