Tony Hatch Q&A: In general, what impact is the coronavirus outbreak having on the rail industry?

20161212 Tonyhatch (Cropped)

Big Deal/Reactions may be a Bigger Deal: I was somewhat late to this whole event (it seemed so far away, and there is a lot of news these days), although being handed a pamphlet right off of the plane in Canadian customs last week in Montreal (“Nouveau Coronavirus”) should have been a major clue. Then came meetings cancellations (the first of many?), guidance reductions (or the removal of any guidance), and non-stop news coverage – this is a big deal. How big, or, in this case, how big for rails? The odds of a global and local recession have gone up, of course (and is the Fed’s half-point rate cut the last of the dry powder?). The OECD has halved its 2020 global GDP growth rate estimate (to +1.5). Commodity prices are plummeting; the Baltic Dry Index is down by ~2/3 since the start of the year. The ISM, after a brief bump up in January, is heading downward (February: 50.1). Analyzing its impact in the rails is both simple (volumes, dwell, consumer confidence, auto supply chain) and complicated; analyzing the first quarter as it was intended by the founders (as a snapshot of a company’s progress on implementing its strategy) will, once again, be nigh on impossible.