Eric Starks Talks Debt Ceiling, Port Activity

10.14.13 | Today's Trucking

"What's the one thing that you need to be really, really worried about over the next two weeks," Eric Starks, president of FTR Associates, asked attendees at the 27th Annual Conference on Transportation Innovation and Technology yesterday.

"The debt ceiling."

"That is the one thing that could derail this economic growth very quickly," he said.

So what is happening with this debt ceiling?

"The last time we saw this argument going on, we saw a downgrade of the U.S. debt and that became problematic. So what happens now, if they continue to play chicken, suggests that we will see the U.S. dollar fall, we'd see interest rates going up, and we could see havoc to the overall economy - the global economy."

Starks said that while the budget impasse is one thing, and the debt ceiling a much bigger thing, "having both of those debates at once, on top of an uncertainty as to what's going to happen, is not a good thing."

"Let's put it this way: Congress in the U.S. doesn't behave rationally and the reality is they are not working together, they are playing complete politics right now."

If they go through with the default, the ripple effects could be huge.

"That's the one thing that needs to be on everyone's radar screen because that could change things very quickly. We're in a growth environment right now but the likelihood that it could be pushed into a recessionary environment becomes significantly higher the closer that they get to dealing with that."

And just when everybody was settling in for a slow growth environment.

Stark also mentioned the importance of looking at more than one data point when you're trying to forecast for the next quarter.

I look at a 100 or more data points per month because honestly, data lies to you - it lies to you all the time so you have to be very careful. People always come to me, and say 'Starks, give me one data point to look at that's going to tell me about my business - and the reality is that you can't. You have to look at several data points.'"

But some of those data points carry more weight than others. For Starks, looking at what's coming in on the west coast ports is telling.

"Typically that tends to be a leading indicator - if goods are coming in, we're likely to have a decent holiday season. But it's just been a ho-hum environment. Around 3-4 percent growth. We're used to seeing double-digit growth coming in on the west coast ports and that's not happening. It's just the retailers saying "I don't see it happening this year."