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Two recent reports offer insight into the continued equipment slump, with some upside Scott Olson/Getty Images

Equipment stats show positive signs

Two recent reports offer insight into the continued equipment slump, with some upside

The email in-box brings some interesting perspective, and in the case of farm equipment two reports caught our eye. The first is a survey of new and used inventories with dealers and manufacturers. The second is an index that looks at confidence in the leasing industry, an indicator of buyer intent for off-highway tools.

We've talked in this column in the past about the need for the industry to manage field inventory of new and used equipment. Pile in new equipment on dealers, and working through that stack of iron can be expensive with the need to offer interest waivers and other deals to make machines move. However, have too little, and customers seek their choice for new equipment elsewhere.

The Equipment Dealers Association and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers conducted a second survey looking at new and used inventory levels. The groups conducted the same survey in 2016, so this 2017 report offers a look at how things have changed.

The good news is that both dealers and manufacturers thing the field inventory of machinery is getting more in line, however, dealers have a darker view of the numbers than manufacturers.

In new equipment, 43% of dealers feel their inventories are too high, 43% say they're just right and 14% feel they're too low. In 2016, this same group had 62% of respondents who thought new equipment inventories were too high with just 30% feeling they were just right.

Good news on the new equipment front, the industry keeps working down the backlog.

Manufacturers are more optimistic with 72% saying new inventories are just right; and 76% saying used inventories are just right.

On the used equipment side, a considerable concern for the industry before the 2016 survey, there's some good news. Dealers, and manufacturers, are working through the inventory. Manufacturers are continuing their certified pre-owned programs which help; and dealers are hard at work too.

For dealers responding to the survey, 36% said used inventories were just right, a solid improvement over last year when 30% of respondents said inventories were just right. And the number who felt used numbers were too high dropped to 48% versus 59% last year. And more dealers - 16% versus 11% the year before - say used inventories are too low.

A little perspective

Dealers are living with inventories on a day to day basis. Owners drive onto their lots each morning and see what's sitting on the grass awaiting a sale, perhaps mentally calculating their carrying cost for trade-ins they made a year or two (or more) earlier. New equipment on the lot weighs on the dealer too, since bills come due on those machines to manufacturers often before they can sell in this market.

So while manufacturers appear more optimistic about new and used inventories, dealers can be more realistic. They're making headway, which is great, but there's still too much equipment out there. And that's a concern.

For farmers, there could be some deals to be made. Dealers are seeing more offers that help move larger machines, but it's slow going. Tractor sales are up, but that's for smaller under-40-hp models. Go to larger horsepower machines and sales are down; and combine sales are off too. With harvest underway, chances are low that a dealer will move combines on their lot in 2017.

In the release announcing the stats, Kim Rominger, president and CEO, EDA, made an interesting comment about the discrepancy in results noting that "large agricultural dealers tend to have higher value late model used equipment without the diversity of the market enjoyed by small agricultural equipment dealers."

Rominger added that dealers moving larger equipment are finding the need to make more effort, and offer concessions on price than dealers of smaller machines. For farmers in the market, this could be a good time to buy.

On the leasing side, the confidence index for the Equipment Leasing and Finance Foundation showed a positive sign. The latest figures - for August - showed that confidence ticked up to 64.4% for August, up from 63.5% the previous two months.

Part of that confidence comes from solid growth in the equipment finance industry, however Tomas Jaschik, president, BB&T Equipment Finance, pointed out that "political dysfunction" in Washington continues to stifle economic growth. "However, with some action on tax and regulatory reform the economy and equipment finance industry could greatly accelerate," he added.

One other stat from the foundation survey? None of the leadership polled evaluated the current U.S. economy as "excellent," which is unchanged from last month. In fact, 100% of the leadership evaluate the current U.S. economy as "fair," and none evaluate it as "poor."

Are we on the uptick? Time will tell, John Deere's latest financial report has the company predicting a 5% decline in ag equipment sales for 2017.

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