Activity in key transport lines is slowing, and it's a worrying sign for the global economy

Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images.

Growth in air freight volumes slowed sharply last year, lead by weakness in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the latest air freight market analysis released by the IATA, freight volumes increased by 2.2% last year, a sharp deceleration on the 5.0% level of a year earlier.

Europe and North America, which account for around 43% of total cargo traffic, were flat in growth terms. Asia-Pacific, representing around 39% of global volumes, grew by 2.3%.

The performance of smaller markets was mixed.

Volumes in the Middle East surged by 11.3% while those in Africa grew by just 1.2%. At 6%, South America was the only region to record a decline in volumes compared to a year earlier.

As a result of the slowdown in volume growth globally and capacity expansion, IATA notes the freight load factor for carriers fell to an average 44.1% compared to 45.7% in 2014, marking the lowest level of utilisation seen since 2009.

“2015 was another very difficult year for air cargo,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “We have to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of cargo growing in line with general rates of economic expansion.”

The difficultly period for air freight operators has been mirrored by those firms transporting seaborne freight.

Plagued by overcapacity and a slowdown in global trade – the same factors impacting airlines – shipping rates have plummeted in recent years.

The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global shipping costs, has fallen substantially in recent years, dropping to the lowest level on record in overnight trade.

At 303, the index is now 97.34% below its all time peak of 11,793 struck struck in May 2008.

The chart below tells the story.

In the absence of an strong rebound in global economic growth, or a substantial reduction in capacity, the outlook for freight operators – whether by air or sea – looks set to remain difficult.

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