Seaborne Trade: How Full Is Your Basket?

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In 2015, growth in global seaborne trade slowed, falling to an estimated 1.9% in the full year, following an expansion of 3.4% in 2014. Indicators suggest that there has been a pick-up in trade growth in the year to date, and there are a range of views on how things might fare in the remainder of 2016. But whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, a basket of monthly volume data might tell you something…

Checking The Basket

Annual projections of seaborne trade can be useful demand side indicators. However, often it is difficult to get a real understanding of short-term trade trends. A year ago (SIW 1189) we looked at a ‘basket’ approach, which took monthly seaborne trade flows for a range of commodities, to help show year to date global seaborne trade trends. Although monthly data can be difficult to use, is not comprehensively available, and is generally subject to a lag of several months, the same monthly ‘basket’ approach examined a year ago remains a helpful indicator of short-term seaborne trade trends.

Promising Contents?

The graph shows the ‘Trade Index’ (see description for details) up to June 2016. Clearly monthly data can be very volatile; in January the index stood at -1%, but four months later it reached 7%. Furthermore, the index has picked up compared to 2015 average levels, averaging 2.1% in Q1 2016 and 4.3% in Q2. Some of this trend is accounted for by a rise in dry bulk trade which fell last year, with China’s dry bulk imports growing 6% y-o-y in 1H 2016, following a 2% drop in 2015 (although risks remain over the sustainability of this improvement). An increase in box trade growth has also been apparent, with expansion in Asia-Europe trade back in positive territory and growth in intra-Asian trade picking up.

Elsewhere, seaborne crude and products trade, which were two of the fastest growing elements of total seaborne trade in 2015, expanded firmly in 1H 2016. This was underpinned by robust growth in crude imports into China (16%), India and the US, despite the disruptions to Nigerian crude exports in recent months.

Half Full Or Half Empty?

Taking a wider view, even since the financial crisis there have been clear peaks in the index. The peak in early 2011 was partly on the back of strong growth in Chinese dry bulk, oil and gas imports and box exports from Asia. The index picked up again in 2012, supported by several months of strong growth in iron ore and coal trade to Asia. The next peak was in late 2013, when once again coal imports into Asia grew robustly and expansion in intra-Asian and Asia-Europe box trade was very strong. Today, you might conclude, if you’re a ‘basket half full’ type, that we’re heading steadily upwards again. But, if you’re a ‘basket half empty’ person, you might note that the peaks each time have been short-lived and have been getting lower.

Is There Something In It?

So, our index appears to be on the up, although still at a relatively moderate level in historical terms, and with a volatile track record behind. There’s something in the ‘basket’ for both the optimist and the pessimist! Have a nice day.

gprh
Source: Clarksons

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