After a strong second quarter, equipment and software investment growth is expected to slow over the remainder of the year, according to the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation’s Q4 update to the 2023 Equipment Leasing & Finance U.S. Economic Outlook.
The report revised its annual estimate for equipment and software investment growth to 3%, most of which occurred during the first half of the year. The report also finds that overall economic growth, which was solid during the first half of the year despite higher interest rates, likely accelerated in Q3 due to strong consumer spending over the summer. As a result, the foundation raised its annual GDP forecast to 2.3%.
“The Q4 update reports that the U.S. economy posted another quarter of solid growth in Q2, as inflation has returned to a more tolerable — though still elevated — level, and the labor market remains strong,” Nancy Pistorio, foundation chair and president of Madison Capital, said. “Looking at the foundation’s forward-looking Momentum Monitors, most of the 12 verticals’ current momentum readings are below their historical average, suggesting relatively weak near-term investment growth. The good news is that more than half of the industry verticals are recovering or emerging, suggesting that investment conditions should improve next year.”
Highlights from the Q4 update to the 2023 Outlook include:
- The U.S. economy expanded at a 2.1% annualized rate in Q2, decreasing slightly from Q1 but defying concerns of a summer slowdown or downturn. The labor market has shown remarkable resilience to higher interest rates and, as a result, the odds of a soft landing have risen. However, the near-term horizon remains cloudy and headwinds continue to build, including rapidly rising consumer debt and its potential impact on spending.
- Equipment and software investment expanded at a 5.3% annualized rate in Q2 after contracting in Q1. However, credit availability continues to tighten, and many businesses have adjusted expansion plans in anticipation of slower economic growth later this year. As a result, the foundation’s investment growth forecasts are modest for both Q3 (1.2% annualized) and Q4 (0.5% annualized).
- The manufacturing sector continues to sidewind: output is essentially flat on the year, capacity utilization is slightly below its historical average and manufacturing job growth has slowed to a crawl. However, growth rates are still modestly positive for both new orders and shipments of core capital goods, and the ISM Purchasing Managers Index rose steadily this summer.
- Main Street continues to experience steady consumer demand, which has helped keep lending activity positive despite high interest rates. However, small business owners continue to report difficulty hiring qualified workers and believe that current inflation levels, while improved, are negatively affecting future growth opportunities.
- The Federal Reserve held interest rates steady at its most recent meeting, with rates now at 5.25% to 5.5%. While some Fed officials have indicated they would prefer one additional increase in 2023, the foundation projects that rates will stay level through December. At the same time, rates are expected to remain elevated for the foreseeable future.
The Foundation-Keybridge U.S. Equipment & Software Investment Momentum Monitor, which is released in conjunction with the Economic Outlook, tracks 12 equipment and software investment verticals. In addition, the Momentum Monitor Sector Matrix provides a customized data visualization of current values of each of the 12 verticals based on recent momentum and historical strength. This month, one vertical is expanding / thriving, eight are recovering / emerging and three verticals are weakening / struggling.
Over the next three to six months, the foundation expects the following trends to materialize on a year-over-year basis:
- Agriculture machinery investment growth is likely to remain weak or negative.
- Construction machinery investment growth should remain positive and may strengthen.
- Materials handling equipment investment growth will likely remain subdued.
- All other industrial equipment investment growth will worsen.
- Medical equipment investment growth will remain weak and may worsen.
- Mining and oilfield machinery investment growth should remain steady.
- Aircraft investment growth will remain solidly positive.
- Ships and boats investment growth will strengthen.
- Railroad equipment investment growth will continue to decelerate.
- Trucks investment growth should remain solid.
- Computers investment growth likely bottomed out earlier this year and should continue to rise.
- Software investment growth should remain positive.