If we can avoid a trade war. If they don’t mess with the Renewable Fuels Standard. If rising interest rates don’t keep customers away. If the weather in the Corn Belt and Bread Basket and other growing regions warms ups and dries out. (It’s supposed to be in the 70s in southeast Wisconsin this week and already about 80 just south of here.) If commodity prices pick up just a little.
Of course, that’s a lot of ifs, but if you’re like me, regardless of the circumstances, you plan for the worst and hope for the best. They rest is out of our control.
Nonetheless, we’re getting a fair amount of improving vibes from the dealers these days. Maybe the best of the best is that used equipment inventories are looking better than they have for some time. According to the results of the Dealer Sentiments & Business Conditions Update survey we sent to Ag Equipment Intelligence subscribers yesterday, a net 15% of dealers reported used equipment inventories as too high. Broken down, 33% of dealers said it was “too high,” 50% said it was “about right” and 18% said it was “too low.” This is an improvement from the 23% reporting higher than desired backlogs in the previous month and the 26% average for all of 2017.
Used combine inventory levels are still problematic as a net 31% of dealers reported they are still too high, which was in line with the first quarter of the year, but somewhat better than the 37% average in 2017.
Pricing on used machines also continues to improve. We’ll have more on pricing trends in this Friday’s newscast of On the Record.
Here’s what dealers are saying about ag equipment sales at the moment: “We are cautiously optimistic because of commodity prices, particularly dairy prices” … “We are more optimistic as customers have the need for equipment after extending time on their current inventory. Service downtimes are beginning to make customers rethink their needs” … “We are hoping the strong spring continues. Trends are positive for under 140 horsepower[tractors] and hay equipment at the moment” … “We feel better about 2018 following the addition of new equipment lines that have been well received in the market” ... “Customer mood is better. We are seeing a large number of farmers quoting new and used machinery.”
But, as was mentioned earlier, dealers still have plenty of “ifs” to contend with. Here are some of their biggest concerns. “Agriculture commodity price uncertainty related to export demand and tariffs combined with customer input cost increases for fuel, chemical, fertilizer and interest rates leave us less optimistic” … “New equipment incentives and interest rates have been a little more aggressive, while used equipment interest rates keep rising. This is not helping our turns on used equipment” … “Weather has been a factor as it has been unseasonably cold and snowy. Our business has been slower than usual at this time of year” … “Everyone has announced steel surcharges effective immediately. We are seeing increases in the 5-8% range.”
And here’s a concern we haven’t heard in a long time: “The demand is there but there is no available inventory to be transferred and extremely long lead times on both retail and stock ordered equipment.”
You know what they say … “It’s always something.”
All “ifs” aside, overall, the dealers’ 2018 outlook currently is for 1% growth. This is in line with the average growth forecasts compiled from survey participants from July to March, which is an encouraging way to kick off the planting season — if it warms up and dries out …