Supply Chain Briefing

The Economy, Outlook & Strategies for Success

The Economy: Big Picture

In the last month, we’ve participated in at least six economic forecast presentations or discussions with experts (economic, banking, investment, manufacturing). Although they each had nuances, common themes emerged. Adding our expertise into the mix, we see volatility on the horizon. 

The bottom line is that inflation is likely to continue, interest rates are unlikely to decline near-term without creating additional down-the-line inflation, unemployment will have fits and starts and trend up slightly yet the labor participation rate will remain lower than pre-pandemic. From a jobs standpoint, low skilled jobs are being automated, yet high-skilled jobs are experiencing a severe skills gap. Overall, the economy will be slower than it has been. Last but not least, geopolitical risks are concerning every expert, leaving volatility the name of the game in the foreseeable future.

The Economy & The Data

A summary of findings from recent research on the state of the economy includes the following:

  • Stimulus (COVID money flooded the economy): Inflation would need to rise by 30% to absorb the stimulus. So far, inflation has gone up around 20%. Thus, there is around 10% left to absorb to get supply and demand in alignment. If interest rates stay put, the COVID funds will run out in about a year. Otherwise, we will have spurts & starts.
  • Government spending: Government spending has continued at historic levels. For example, in 2023, nominal GDP was up $1.5 trillion yet federal debt increased $2.5 trillion, leaving a gap. Debt is increasing at what some see as an alarming rate.
  • Inflation rate: It has gone up by 20%, but to absorb the stimulus, there is still 10% to go. It is likely interest rates will remain flat to work through the COVID money. If not, there will be bursts of inflation and recession (volatility). Inflation is likely to stay higher than the goal around 3-3.5%.
  • Unemployment rates & labor participation rates: Layoffs surged 136% in January to the second-highest level on record with financial companies, the technology sector, food production companies, and retail with the highest levels (in order of sequence). On the other hand, these findings led the experts to think employers would show the latest hiring at 180,000 workers yet the number came in double that amount (353,000). The unemployment rate stayed about the same at 3.7% with the labor force participation rate at 62.5% (which close to 1% lower than pre-pandemic, 63.4%). There is 1.3 jobs for every person looking for a job. From a client point-of-view, they simply do not have the high-skilled resources required although they are automating low-skilled jobs, and depending on the industry, they have put a pause on hiring.
  • Wages: Workers’ wages are improving but they still have not caught up with inflation. In the last three years, real average hourly earnings are still down 2.4%. Thus, people are not feeling better.
  • GDP (gross domestic product): Real gross domestic product has largely recovered. It increased 3.3% in the 4th quarter and consumer spending has remained relatively strong. It shifted from goods to services, but has held up overall even with the interest rate hikes thus far.
  • Banking: There is concern about the regional banks. They hold most of the commercial real estate loans that will need to be refinanced at higher rates over the next few years. Also, bank’s liquidity requirements are driving concerns with the changing of bonds prices with the quick increase in interest rates.
  • Geopolitical risk: Every expert mentioned concern around geopolitical risk. It will lead to inflationary pressures with reshoring, increased prices (for example, the Red Sea rates, diversion costs, and/or expedite costs), impact on energy prices, etc.

The bottom line can be summed up in with the misalignment of demand and supply, the shrinking workforce (with Baby Boomer retirements – by 2030, the youngest of the largest generation in history will be older than 65) combined with the divergent needs for high-skills vs low skills, and the emergence of high geopolitical risk. Thus, volatility and uncertainty will remain.

What Should We Take Away

Smart executives will take bold actions to ensure they can supply their key / ideal customers while pruning low margin/ non-value added customers. They are adding customer/ product profitability, pricing, and costing trends into their SIOP (Sales Inventory Operations Planning) processes to evaluate options, set strategy and make decisions.

They will invest in the best high-skilled resources, supplement with additional options (refer to our article, Where the Talent Has Gone, and create a high-performance culture. Strong leaders will be pivotal to ensuring success. People follow leaders; not companies.

Proactive clients are upgrading ERP systems to ensure the basic processes (blocking and tackling) are in place. Additionally, they are rolling out advanced technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) to automate, digitize and thrive. To read more about these strategies, refer to our article, Automate, Digitize and Thrive in Supply Chain. It will be cornerstone to success in the next decade.

Additionally, smart clients are upgrading business processes, cleaning up their data to better utilize their ERP and peripheral systems, and building flexibility and scalability into their future thinking. The core processes include demand planning, production planning, engineering (for engineer-to-order ETO and configure-to-order CTO companies), production and inventory control, and replenishment/ distribution planning processes. From a data perspective, it is important to review bills of materials, routings, work centers, item masters, customer and supplier masters, and MRP parameters. Proactive clients are ensuring the basics are intact and they are focusing on the roadmap to stay at least a few steps ahead of changing conditions.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic:
Supply Chain Volatility, Risk & Capacity Remain Critical Priorities