Slowdown or recession? Clay Nickel, director of investment strategy and portfolio manager for Arvest’s Investment Management Group, says economists aren’t very good at forecasting those things.

But most of the data point away from recession.

“What all these indicators are telling us is that the U.S. economy is going to be slowing,” he said in recent stop in Kansas City.

Some of his observations:

• Last year’s U.S. growth rate of 3 percent “is probably not sustainable.” Headwinds include an aging population and a slowing of worker productivity growth. He sees a growth rate of 2.6 percent for this year.

• Growth is likely to slow elsewhere around the globe as well – but that’s still growth. “This is a synchronized deceleration but not a recession,” Nickel said. Still, keep an eye on Britain and Greece. And tariffs.

• Interest rates have risen over the last year but are not onerous. “The point is that financial conditions are tightening, but they are not overly tight,” he said.

• The aging population and demands on programs such as Social Security and Medicare add up to a demographic problem that might come to a head, by his estimation, in five to 12 years. “That is one thing that truly worries me,” he said.

And a note for personal investors. We’ve gotten used to calm, but market volatility is actually normal.

“Well, now we think it’s here to stay,” he said.

“The most important thing,” he added, “is that you continue to control your emotions through these volatile times.”

Too often too slow

A deeply concerning trend for Amtrak service across Missouri has emerged. The River Runner, which crosses the state four times daily, has been posting some ugly late times.

Look at just three days last week:

• The westbound train scheduled to stop in Independence at 9:06 p.m. was more than four hours late Tuesday, nearly an hour late Wednesday and just under three hours late Thursday. On Tuesday, that train rolled into Lee’s Summit just under two hours late – and somehow got delayed another two hours in the short stretch between Lee’s Summit and Independence.

• The afternoon eastbound train out of Kansas City was an hour or more late at stops statewide on Tuesday, half hour or more late east Jefferson City on Wednesday, and arrived two hours and five minutes late in St. Louis on Thursday.

• The morning train out St. Louis is scheduled to stop in Independence at 2:20 p.m., but those times were 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, 3:03 p.m. Wednesday and 3:45 p.m. Thursday.

Weather? Track troubles? No, said Eric Curtit, rail administrator for the Missouri Department of Transportation. It’s simply a matter of freight traffic.

“It’s frustrating,” Curtit said.

Amtrak uses Union Pacific tracks and is under the direction of UP dispatchers. Passenger traffic is supposed to get priority but often doesn’t. Simply put, Amtrak sits on a siding waiting for freight trains – one after another – to pass ahead.

“We’ve been working closely with them to address it,” Curtit said.

MoDOT meets with UP officials every other week.

“I’ve been none too pleasant with them lately,” Curtit said.

Amtrak is fairly popular, the cost isn’t bad, and it’s a good option for those whose schedules allow it – but the trains have to consistently run on time for this to work.

It’s a new week, so I glanced at Tuesday’s times. That morning train out of St. Louis arrived in Independence at 4:48 p.m. – two hours and 28 minutes late. That means the return train – eastbound of out Kansas City – didn’t have a chance to start on time. It didn’t, and it was chugging across the state two hours late Tuesday night.

Not a good day. A business can afford only so many of those.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6313 or jeff.fox@examiner.net.