U.S.-bound waterborne shipments see mild slip in March, reports Panjiva

March shipments, at 858,809, were down 0.2% annually, marking the first annual decline going back to February 2017’s 7.7% annual decline, with both of these months volumes impacted by the timing of the Asian Lunar New Year, with Panjiva noting that the resulting shortfall in products arriving on U.S. shores in the following weeks. For the first quarter of 2018, Panjiva data indicated that shipments were up 6.9% annually at 2,816,997.

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While the numbers were still decent overall, United States-bound waterborne shipment activity in March did not carry the same weight as it has in previous months, according to data issued this week by global trade intelligence firm Panjiva.

March shipments, at 858,809, were down 0.2% annually, marking the first annual decline going back to February 2017’s 7.7% annual decline, with both of these months volumes impacted by the timing of the Asian Lunar New Year, with Panjiva noting that the resulting shortfall in products arriving on U.S. shores in the following weeks. For the first quarter of 2018, Panjiva data indicated that shipments were up 6.9% annually at 2,816,997.

Given the recent back and forth between the United States and China regarding tariffs and related protectionist measures, Panjiva Research Director Chris Rogers said things overall are in a pretty decent place, as it relates to global trade.

“Trade fundamentals remain solid,” explained Rogers. “In a world with no President Trump and President Xi shouting at each other, we are feeling pretty optimistic about things. Consumer confidence and business confidence are down a little bit, but still remain at high levels. Most products [categories] are seeing solid growth, but there remains an overhanging worry about tariffs finally arriving, with the ones for metals already intact. But once others kick in, there could be a sense of the wheels coming off the wagon.” 

What’s more, Panjiva noted that even though future tariff action is not definite, it said that the prospect of slowing trade is more problematic than at any time in the last two years.

Looking ahead to the coming months, Rogers said it is reasonable to expect low single digit growth in the same range as prior months, save for March.

Things that shippers need to focus on, aside from tariffs and geopolitical events, include how to handle this year’s Peak Season.

“Preparation really starts to kick in around July, with negotiations around shipping rates starting in May,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding the next Peak Season. Tariffs also remain a factor, as well as recent news of some retailers folding. And there are also shippers dealing with different demands that may dictate whether to ship later or earlier in the year as it relates to planning. The next couple of months are going to be pretty quiet, but by the start of the third quarter things could be pretty fraught. “

U.S.-bound waterborne shipments from China were down 2.1% annually in March, due to the Lunar New Year, with shipments from Taiwan off 25.7%, its worst month in more than ten years. Shipments from South Korea rose 17%.

And product lines tracked by Panjiva, including autos, furniture, energy, and toys, were up between 1%-3%, with iron and steel up only 0.1% on the heels of 12 months of growth, which Panjiva said likely reflects a conservative approach from suppliers ahead of the section 232 duties on March 29. Product lines seeing declines in March included apparel off 2.4% and machinery/electronics off 2%.


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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