Rough economic times for tollers worldwide

May 24, 2012

The Wall Street Journal has a p1 headline "New Signs of Global Slowdown" and a "darkening" economic outlook around the world. Today's news in the US is merely of drop in capital goods orders, the second monthly drop. But economic data from around the world while not dramatic is remarkably consistent in pointing to a new slowdown in economies virtually around the world.

Economic Cycle researcher Lakshman Achuthan cites for the US:

- coincident indicators, all major broad measures (output, sales, income and jobs) are all turning down together, a sign that "a recession is at the doorstep"

- income growth lower than the level of the last ten recessions

"We have 223 years of business cycle history, we have had 47 recessions, and we have the hope that if the Fed can print enough money we can stave off the 48th recession, but the odds are not in our favor."

The elections six months off make any kind of intelligent response by the federal government more difficult.

Europe of course is in the throes of the biggest challenge to the Euro in decades with likely defaults by Greece and possible other countries.

China a former growth leader looks increasingly weak as it struggles with vast inventories of empty housing and  commercial buildings and underutilized infrastructure - with financial crises likely to follow.

Brazil the biggest economy in South America has seen a contraction every month this year.

Fuel costs down

One of the few bits of good news is the major decline in world oil prices in the past few months - 15%. Gasoline and diesel are on the way down too of course. 

But that may reflect weak demand as much as improved supply. And to the extent the big oil price rise last year was driven by hedging and speculation about war in the Persian Gulf, these prices could go up again too.

VMT weak

Of direct interest to tollers vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are bumping around month to month but the so far the basic trend seems to be flat, or even a tad down.

From mid 2010 through mid-2011 there seemed to be faint signs of recovery, but since then VMT has dropped again slightly.

Recently released INRIX data on the 150 most congested urban corridors in the country showed an approximate 1% drop in traffic 2011/2010.

The latest FHWA figures - a moving 12 months VMT total - shows US drivers still well below the 3 trillion vehicle-miles figure reached in the years 2006 and 2007.

The high in driving was 3,039b November 2007. In March this year we were 3.24% below that and since October last year we've been at least 3% below every month.

For a good period now the FHWA numbers and the INRIX data mesh, showing us now down a bit nationally on 2010, when we got within 2.5% of the Nov 2007 high.

With the economy so weak probably the best to hope for is an essentially flat trend line for the foreseeable future.

A significant drop in traffic is more likely if the present gloomy overall economic trends compound and produce a further recession.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-05-24

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