ANALYSIS: Class 8 truck sales suggest US boom ahead?

By Glenn Brooks | 12 January 2012

Back in 2007, I remember reading the thoughts of some who saw an economic collapse for the US in 2008. One of the theories was that freight trends and Class 8 heavy truck sales indicate what's 10-12 months away. In December 2011, Class 8 sales surged.

This is of course a wholly unscientific approach to forecasting. I am not a trained economist, just someone who watches the world's vehicle markets closely, and who looks for trends and every now and then reminds himself that This Too Shall Pass.

Remember living with nerves on edge for fear of the 'dirty' bombs that were soon to explode in our major cities, or just as unsettling but for different reasons, the imminent death spiral of the euro and therefore the end of life as we know it in the European region?

The fear-inducing media is perhaps just pausing to reload as it breathlessly prepares its next onslaught of designed-to-frighten-and-control headlines concerning the EU's common currency - last time I looked the major retailers in London's Oxford Street were continuing to accept euro cash for purchases, as they have done for many years.

I use the English High Street as an example to suggest that the business of life usually just goes on in the face of manufactured hysteria. And I guess that for now at least, the collapse of the single currency is running slightly tardy. "Sorry for the delay", as the most popular announcement on UK train stations begins. Yes, parts of Europe have solvency problems and I don't mean to take a flippant tone. I'm just a little tired of hearing about attempted fixes to what is thought to be a liquidity problem.

Leaving the UK media's dire announcements of 'Risk of deep recession in 2012' to one side, I keep looking to the country which dragged the few other shockingly indebted nations such as these islands where I live into the last downturn back in Q3, 2008.

And dare I say it, or rather ask it, is the US not just recovering but in fact at the start of a new boom? That might be risking sounding like a sick joke to the people currently battling to find even a part time job in parts of America but stick with me. You see, I keep finding myself looking again at US market sales of commercial vehicles and the news keeps getting better. I suspect the economy there has been expanding for some time yet we're all afraid to think it could be true.

Make up your own mind, as you will, email me to say why exactly you might violently disagree, but take a moment to consider a few things that I came across in recent days. Read one of them here. Heavy truck sales up 46 percent month-on-month. Yes, I hear you urging caution. But, I have watched these numbers for a few years now. There IS a trend emerging.

Apart from anything else, even the Great Depression eventually came to an end. Perhaps the Great Recession did too, but many of us in the countries where there was a major downturn (Brazilians, Chinese, Indians and Russians knew it not, I try not to forget) have all forgotten about how life in an expanding economy feels.

Perhaps the US freight industry at least, has broken free of its chains. There is a school of thought out there, and again, this is not at all proved other than by looking at the facts of the last few downturns. And crucially, as so many have decided not to bother doing, at upturns. The theory goes that Class 8 truck sales in the US are a leading indicator with a delay factor of 10-12 months.

The year 2006 seems a lifetime ago but back then, US trucking industry leaders were trying to make anyone listen to their alarm at how quickly a freight recession was taking hold. Yes there had been all sorts of one off factors such as new emissions norms that were and had caused sales distortions. But right now, those same indicators are reportedly turning up. Steeply.

The US recession began in December 2007 and it's good to remember, ended quite a long time ago in quarterly economic terms. It's just that the long tail of mass-joblessness instead of once expected rapid recovery has lashed particularly nastily at those wretched souls in the work-seeking queues. But even in that context, do dare to ask this: has a boom in the US that will be the new norm around December 2012 begun? And is it a co-incidence that I see ever more news stories about German car and truck makers, always cautious but also noted for their eye on the medium to long term, investing in US production?