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.

Automation & the Changing Workforce: Robots as Employees?

Automation efforts have long targeted simple repetitive tasks in a manufacturing process. Now, more sophisticated sensors and software, including artificial intelligence and analytics, are allowing automation to cover even more tasks, and capital-rich larger manufacturers are benefitting.

But what about smaller firms, many have been producing their components or products in much the same way for decades? Many smaller operators do not have the capital or cash on hand to pay for robotic equipment up front.

Solution: robots as a service.

Many other high tech products – most notably in the security area – have already made significant moves away from buying to leasing, renting, or otherwise paying for technology (equipment and software) on an ongoing rather than up-front basis. This business model allows the customer to leave programming, maintenance, and upgrades to the specialists. It will allow faster diffusion of automation into more businesses that either couldn’t afford to buy it outright or saw the technology as too intimidating or outside their own experience to handle themselves.

Formic is one company offering robots in this way. Customers “pay” the robot an hourly rate in exchange for having these robots in operation.

With the ongoing need to better deploy our resources and our workers for optimal efficiency, along with challenges from a pandemic to  that stress our workforce, the need for automation isn’t going away. The outstanding question is more about how best to do it and where to employ it…and how best to use the workers who shift out of those tasks.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly titles such as Global Off-Road Equipment Technology and Global Material Handling Equipment. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.


Electric RVs: Next Step For Zero-Emission Travel

Winnebago and Thor Industries both announced a new type of concept recreational vehicles this week: all-electric, zero emission RVs.

RVs are a hot business right now as Americans are looking for pandemic-safe ways to travel and are enjoying a resurgence in camping and outdoor leisure. Since manufacturers are flush with cash, it's a good time for them to invest in next-gen technology and EVs have to be part of that.

Although the current range is still too limited to accommodate a traveler looking to cover maximum miles in a day, many RVers wouldn't mind stopping every couple of hours to have a meal, take a nap, stretch their legs, or see a tourist spot. As fast-charging stations proliferate, this will become less of a challenge. Additionally, some RV travelers use their vehicles within a few hundred miles of their homes (e.g., tail gating at sports events/concerts, day trips, as a weekend retreat), so the range isn’t a problem if they can recharge at their destination.

Plus, the range is bound to improve along with battery innovations and additional changes to RV design. Current versions of RVs use a lot of fuel (gasoline or diesel) anyway and have to stop regularly to refuel... there is certainly a market for cleaner and more efficient vehicles, including those that make use of solar panels to recharge off the grid.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly titles such as Global Batteries, Global Hybrid & Electric Vehicles, Recreational Vehicles, and Outdoor Living. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Automotive & Transport      Consumer Goods    

Initiative to Repair Bridges to Benefit Construction Industry

The US government’s announcement of a $27 billion plan to repair older and unsafe bridges across the US is welcome news not only to state and local agencies charged with fixing and repairing these structures but to the US construction industry – those companies responsible for providing the materials and labor for these projects.

It’s long been known that the national network of bridges is in need of repair. While less than 10% of the bridges in the US were considered to be “structurally deficient” in the most recent report card of US infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers, more than 40% of the nation’s bridges are more than 50 years old – and these structures will eventually some repair (if not outright replacement).

Many state and local governments tried to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic-related emptying of America’s roads and highways (due to the surge in working from home) by accelerating work on bridge repair since it is easier to complete projects when fewer vehicles are zipping by workers. However, this decline in road and highway traffic meant that consumers were spending much less on gasoline. This was an issue in many states, as taxes on gasoline play a major role in funding highway projects. Thus, less funds were available for bridge repair – making this spending initiative important for states looking to perform crucial infrastructure repairs.

This increase in funding will boost for a wide range of construction projects, such as:

  • cement and concrete
  • prefabricated concrete products, such as piers, pilings, and bridge sections
  • metal pillars, posts, and other structural supports
  • steel rebar to reinforce poured and prefabricated concrete components
  • lumber used as supports for concrete pours

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


Rebounding Timber Prices May Lead to Reduced Lumber Prices

A recent article reporting on higher prices for harvested timber in the US reveals an interesting paradox: this increase in timber prices may actually lead to a decrease in lumber prices.

How, one wonders, is this the case?

Well, for some time low timber prices have discouraged owners of forestland from harvesting trees, as they would gain little, if any, profit. This has kept supplies of material to sawmills at a depressed level, making it more difficult for lumber producers to obtain necessary raw materials.

A rise in timber prices, though, will encourage foresters to increase tree harvesting. While there are many uses for harvested timber – corrugated material for the boxes increasingly being used to ship products to consumers a key example – a good share of this newly harvested timber will make its way to sawmills for processing into lumber. Blessed with the prospect of more regular supply, sawmills will expand production activities, thus boosting the amount of lumber available to home builders, contractors, other construction professionals, and homeowners engaged in their own DIY projects. For those who have been dealing with high lumber prices, any relief will be welcome!

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


Increasing Multifamily Construction in 2022 a Boon to Housing Industry

The US continues to face a shortage of housing units, as evinced by strong housing prices and a lack of homes available for purchase on the market. However, the US also faces a shortage of multifamily housing (apartments and condominiums). These residences are equally important to the US housing market, as they provide homes for those unable or unwilling to purchase single-family residences. This cohort includes those with small households such as single people and empty-nesters, as well as retirees and others who prefer maintenance-free living. Furthermore, multifamily housing is often more affordable than single-family residences – an important consideration for those still struggling with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, a recent report stating that 2022 would be a strong one for multifamily housing is welcome news to the US housing industry. Increasing rents and rising property values make apartment construction a viable investment opportunity for firms looking for strong returns, while continuing demand for apartments and condominiums will encourage the construction of new complexes and the refurbishment of existing facilities. Many of these multifamily housing units will be located in urban areas, thus easing the shortage of affordable housing so often prevalent in many cities.

Increasing construction of multifamily housing units will also boost demand for a wide range of construction materials, key among them:

  • cement and concrete – used not only for the structures themselves, but also related facilities, such as parking garages
  • windows and doors
  • lumber – especially for prefabricated roof, wall, and floor trusses
  • drywall
  • plumbing fixtures and fittings
  • insulation

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