April 2017: Growth tapering off, but yields keep improving...

May 31, 2017

One month ago the whole air cargo business was over the moon, so to speak, as March 2017 had shown the best year-on-year (YoY) performance since the 2008-2009 crisis. The month of April now being accounted for, industry players may well wonder whether they are back on earth or still in seventh heaven, such was the difficulty in understanding the March-April figures.

Worldwide growth in April was respectable, with a 7.7% volume increase YoY, but different parts of the industry showed very different performances. In Direct Ton Kilometers, the growth was 8.5%, indicating an upward trend in the average distance between origins and final destinations of shipments. Revenues did well, as worldwide yield improved further: it grew by 2 USD cents month-over-month (MoM) and by 5 USD cents YoY.

Because of calendar effects, the March-results - as published last month - were somewhat inflated, particularly for Europe which felt the influence of a late Easter very strongly: a YoY outbound volume growth of 19% in March was followed by a meagre 5% in April, but the two months together still averaged an impressive 12.1% YoY growth outbound (and 9.3% inbound).

April volume growth YoY ranged from 14% in the origin Asia Pacific to -3% in the origin Africa. When taking March and April together, we see a YoY growth in all regions that is stronger than the growth in January/February, except for the origin Africa.

Keen followers of the liturgical and lunar calendars may be able to tell whether this is all or partly due to a combined Lunar New Year & Easter effect, with a monthly change in the number of "good cargo days" thrown in for good measure... The long and the short of it? It seems safest to look at the total for the first four months of the year: volume was up a solid 9% compared with 2016. To put this in perspective, the first four months of 2016 were flat compared with the same period in 2015.

There are, however, other signals as well. The usual worldwide air cargo drop from March to April was large this year: -8% compared to an average fall of -4% in the previous three years. Whilst the March-April drop had become gradually smaller over the past three years, in almost all regions, it became larger this year in all regions, except in Latin America (which has a completely different March-to-April dynamic).  

So, the growth acceleration we witness since Summer 2016 continued this year, but the size of the March-April drop in 2017 may act as a caveat against the view that good times are here to stay.   

Whilst one would expect origins like Hong Kong and China East to do very well when Asia Pacific is growing as much as it does (they do very well indeed!), the surprise of the first part of 2017 in Asia Pacific is really Japan, which seems well on its way to shed the lackluster air cargo performance of last year. The country is among the world's serious growth markets, both inbound and outbound. Good news came from two smaller markets as well, with a growth of over 30% YoY for the origins Vietnam and Poland.

The perishables market hardly grew. Among the larger Perishables producers, Kenya (+0.3%), Ecuador (+1.6%) and Egypt (+7.4%) improved less than Colombia (+13.3%), Norway (+15.6%) and Brazil (+16%). The air cargo pharma market, however, grew by a healthy 12.1%, even though the top producer India stagnated in the first 4 months of 2017.