May: is it a true market upturn?

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May could be another month where an apparent bump in demand is not repeated for many weeks to come, like so many other months before it. 

This is Air Cargo Week’s analysis of the International Air Transport Association’s latest market data combined with past reports. According to IATA, freight tonne kilometres (FTK) rose in May, compared to the same month in 2013, by 4.7 per cent for the total market – international and domestic combined. The total market FTK rise for the year-to-date is 4.4 per cent.

This rise is thought to be due to, an easing of a Chinese economic slowdown; consistent improvement in European economic activity; a World Cup related pick-up in Latin America; Africa’s recent weak growth ending, and the Middle East’s strong expansion which is linked to emerging markets.  North America did not reflect the wider trend with “modest” results because of a first quarter slow down in the US. At the beginning of June, IATA saw what little growth there had been between January and April coming from the developed economies. 

At the end of May, AAPA stated that in terms of FTKs, Asia Pacific airlines saw 5,707 in March, then 5,108 in April and in May it bounced back to 5,207. The March increase was said by AAPA to be due to rising Asian exports. According to IATA, the alleged FTK bounce back from April to May was actually an anaemic 0.1 per cent. This would be an increase of just five freight tonne kilometres. Not the 99 FTK AAPA claim. Over the first five months of 2014, AAPA claim a 4.4 per cent increase in Asia Pacific FTKs. Despite IATA stating that the FTK gain was a fraction of that identified by AAPA, the association saw Chinese manufacturing rebounding in May. IATA cited JP Morgan analysis as a source for the Asia Pacific surge with export orders rising. Chinese manufacturing seems to have had a surge in March, which then dipped in April and surged again in  May. Another difference between the two is a 55 per cent Asia Pacific freight load factor from IATA, while AAPA rates it at 64.9 per cent for the same month. In April, IATA reported in its financial monitor for February, that that month saw a dip after a stronger January. The association concluded that the February fall was temporary. Regions’ FTKs varied too, with Africa’s falling while the Middle East and Europe rose. Asia Pacific was stagnant. Despite IATA previously describing January as “strong,” the Stifel Logistics Confidence Index gave airfreight that month a 0.2 decline, which was a second consecutive decline. The Index measures activity across many European-based trade routes. 

At the start of year an IATA survey found executives broadly expecting a good 2014, but 25 per cent expected a worse market. The positive outlook had been due to trade in the last quarter of 2013. Yet IATA announced in late May that 2014’s first four months had seen no real rise in volumes. Volatility describes 2014, not a growth trend. 

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