Shaken, rattled … and maybe not ready to roll

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The prospects for freight look to be pretty mixed going forward, despite the posting of strong truckload tonnage numbers over the past couple of months.

Indeed, if a new Harris Poll is to be believed, despite a booming stock market – with the Dow Jones Index hitting some of the best numbers in over five years – data from the housing market are uneven and consumer confidence remains “shaky” in the words of the polling firm.

Add to this mix the impending sequester and spending cuts, and there seem to be a lot of mixed feelings on where the overall economy in heading, according to an online survey of 2,496 U.S. adults conducted between February 13 and 18, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

Looking ahead, one-third of Americans (32%) expect the economy to be better in the coming year, two in five (40%) expect it to stay the same and almost three in ten (28%) expect it to get worse. These numbers are similar to one year ago, when 36% said the economy would be better, 40% said it would stay the same and 24% said it would get worse, the firm noted.

Looking at household financial conditions, half of Americans (50%) believe their financial conditions will remain the same over the next six months, while 23% believe it will be better and 27% believe it will get worse. There is a generational divide, as well, with “echo boomers” (those 18 to 36 years in age) more likely than “matures” (those 67 and older) to believe things will be better: 30% vs. 14%.

One of the main issues is that expenses, such as fuel costs, are taking a growing toll on paychecks that haven't increased very much in the past few years.

A majority of Americans (57%) are concerned that their family's income will not be enough to cover all of their costs and expenses this year, while 43% are not concerned – though this is down from the 63% who stated they were concerned last year.

Not surprisingly, the higher a person's household income, the less likely they are to be concerned about covering their costs and expenses, Harris noted. However, it is somewhat alarming that large numbers of people even in the highest income brackets—47% of those who earn $75,000 to $99,999 and 37% of those who earn $100,000 or more—say they are concerned about meeting their costs and expenses, the firm pointed out.

While there is still a concern about unemployment, more Americans say the job market in their region of the country is good (21%) according to Harris’ data. However, although the numbers are improving, almost half of U.S. adults say that the job market in their region is bad (48%), while 31% say it is neither good nor bad, it said.

The improvements in the job market are encouraging, but expectations for the future are mixed, Harris’ data indicated.

Currently, 28% of Americans believe the job market in their region is going to be better over the next six months, while half (52%) say it will remain the same and one in five (19%) think it will be worse, the firm said.

Looking back almost a year to last March, one-third of U.S. adults (33%) thought the job market would be getting better, half (50%) thought it would remain the same and 17% believed it would be getting worse over the next six months.

Harris’ expert concluded that such conflicting economic indicators – coupled with the continued stalemate in Washington, D.C. over budgetary issues – are leading to “mixed feelings” among Americans.

One issue that still hasn't been eased in the public's mind is that almost half (48%) believe the U.S. is still in a recession and only one-quarter (24%) believe the U.S. has come out of a recession and the economy is growing.

Thus Harris conclude that, until consumers feel more confident that there are policies are in place to help and that they have enough money to pay their monthly bills, they will likely hold off on spending; something that will not help the economy bounce back in a steady manner.

We’ll just have to see how this all plays out – and how it affects freight flows. 

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