US & Global Economic Impact Analysis and Forecasts

Freedonia analysts and economists are sharing their insights on how major events are impacting different parts of the US and global economies.

Rising Lumber Prices; Again a Challenge to Construction Industry?

Over the past year and a half, the US building construction industry has been buffeted by a wide range of issues – COVID-19, shortages of labor and raw materials, and surging prices for materials when available. For many in the construction industry, high lumber prices were perhaps the most pressing issue. Given the ubiquity of lumber in construction jobs – from building decks to making structural framing – high lumber prices bedeviled builders, contractors, and consumers for most of the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021 before prices returned to their pre-pandemic norms.

Now, however, lumber prices have started to rise again, causing angst among the construction industry. While prices – about $700 per thousand board feet – are far below the $1,700 peak seen last year, their rise – at a time when inflation is affecting so many other items (such as gasoline, fasteners, and other building components) – is a concern:

  • A prolonged surge in lumber prices may negatively affect home prices at a time when there is a shortage of affordable housing.
  • Consumers buffeted by rising prices for a wide range of consumer goods may cancel previously planned home improvement projects.
  • Contractors may sacrifice profitability to keep getting bids – a strategy that only works in the short term!

Some feel that this increase in lumber prices in a temporary blip – the onset of winter will bring a reduction in many construction jobs, allowing supplies to increase and prices to fall. Others, though, are concerned that this increase is a harbinger of another round of prices. Freedonia analysts will continue to monitor lumber prices and their effects on the construction industry as a whole.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly in the Construction and Building Products. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.


A Lasting Change Caused by the Pandemic: A Shift to E-Commerce

While the US economy has seen a number of changes due to the pandemic, one particularly stands out: the increasing use of e-commerce to purchase items that would have been normally bought in stores. US consumers have adopted the practice with gusto, as groceries, garments, and numerous other products being ordered with increasing regularity.

A recent article highlights some of the effects of shift to e-commerce on the US economy as a whole, such as:

  • strong demand for corrugated boxes, padded envelopes, and plastic films to help protect shipped goods
  • additional facilities to not only produce packaging materials but also to serve as the warehouses that store packages prior to their final delivery
  • delivery vehicles – and more importantly, drivers – to transport packagers to their purchasers

Indeed, the increasing role e-commerce is playing in the US market is encouraging many companies to play larger roles in the development of warehouses. For example, Nucor – a leading US steel products manufacturer – announced plans to purchase Hannibal Industries, a manufacturer of metal racking systems and related equipment for warehouses. The acquisition provides Nucor with an opportunity to expand into this market segment; furthermore, given Nucor’s extensive network of steel production and fabrication facilities, the company will be able to increase production of racking systems as more warehouses are completed – thus providing sales growth.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly in the Packaging and Construction areas, as well as topics such as Global Material Handling. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Consumer Goods      Covid-19      Industry Studies    

Overall June Retail Trends: Price Increases + Continued Opening = Additional Growth

The most recent retail sales report for June 2021 showed overall growth in retail activity, boosted in part by two key trends – price increases and continued opening of the economy. Ongoing concerns about plateauing vaccination trends and the spread of the Delta variant put some moderating pressure on trends.

Overall, retailers that saw the best gains had stocks and services that were linked to the away-from-home experience or simply benefited from the change of seasons and the warmer summer weather. Specifically, food service establishments and apparel retailers saw the best gains.

Some categories – including auto sales -- slumped amid ongoing supply chain challenges. Additionally, categories associated with home – such as furniture, sporting goods, and building materials retailers – slowed from May levels.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Consumer Goods      Covid-19    

Own All Four Railroads? “Monopoly” Might Be a Bit More Difficult Soon

An executive order signed in early July laid out the Biden administration’s plan to reduce the strength of monopolies across the US economy. In the freight industry – namely, freight by rail and freight by waterway – the administration believes consumers and small companies are at a disadvantage due to the power of the limited number of major players.

In the rail industry, competition is largely limited by high concentration – the four largest firms control the vast majority of the market – and each rail company’s captive control of its rail system. The executive order encourages the Surface Transportation Board to adopt a system, known as “reciprocal” or “competitive switching”, which has been proposed many times in the past. If put in place, rail shipping customers that are served by one railroad are able to accept bids from competing railroads in the area. The bidding company would pay a fee to utilize the dominant railroad’s infrastructure, increasing the number of potential choices rail shipping customers have among railroad firms and placing downward pressure on shipping rates. Furthermore, it may open the door for smaller rail shipping firms to increase their market share.

For ocean shippers, the executive order encourages the Federal Maritime Commission to take further action to reduce export fees and allows the Justice Department to enforce their decisions.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, as well as Freedonia Focus titles such as Freight by Waterway: United States, Freight Services: United States, Freight by Rail: United States, and Freight by Truck: United States. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Automotive & Transport      Covid-19    

Revised Sales Figures Show Continuing Strength of US Kitchen & Bathroom Remodeling Market

The US home improvement market continues to be a source of strength for the US economy, as consumers remain interested in remodeling and adding on to their homes. A recent update by the National Kitchen & Bath Association demonstrates the strength of this, showing that spending on new kitchens and bathrooms is projected to rise more than 20% in 2021 – a substantial increase from its previously published figures.

In the new residential market, spending will be driven by strong new housing activity, as home builders capitalize on high demand for single-family by erecting new residences as fast as they can – despite high prices for building materials and shortages of lumber and other key products. Many of these newly built homes will feature large kitchens and multiple bathrooms (including master bathroom suites) to entice buyers.

In the much larger residential remodeling segment, many homeowners will seek to purge the memories of the COVID-19 pandemic by completely changing the residences in which they spent so much time over the past year. Kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects will be among the work most often specified by homeowners as they modernize the look of their homes or add features to enhance comfort and convenience – such as more and larger bathrooms with his-and-her sinks, senior-friendly toilets and bathtubs, and touchless fittings, or kitchens with more space for meal preparation and to store the new kitchen appliances that saw intensive use during the past year.

This surge in kitchen and bathroom activity will drive demand for a wide range of products, including:

  • cabinets
  • countertops
  • appliances
  • plumbing fixtures (sinks, toilets, and bathtubs and showers)
  • plumbing fittings (faucets, showerheads, flush valves)
  • pipe, valves, and fittings
  • hard surface flooring (especially decorative tile and luxury vinyl tile, or LVT)
  • paint, drywall, and other interior finishing materials

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly such studies as Home Kitchen & Bathroom Remodeling, as well other studies in the Construction and Building Products and Consumer Goods areas. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Construction & Building Products      Consumer Goods      Covid-19