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May 2017 IATA Air Freight Market Analysis 
Another strong month, but has the cyclical growth peak passed?

Year-on-year FTK growth accelerates in May…

Global FTKs grew by 12.7% year-on-year in May, up from 8.7% in April. This pace is more than three times the five-year average growth rate (3.8%). As has been the case in recent months, airlines registered in Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America accounted for the bulk of the annual increase in freight volumes.

Industry-wide FTKs have now grown by 10.2% in annual terms so far this year to date. Allowing for the extra day in February 2016 owing to the leap year, this is equivalent to annual growth of just under 11%. All told, it is the strongest start to the year since the rebound from the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2010.

…helped by a strong rise in monthly volumes

After a mixed start to 2017 in SA terms, May saw strong month-on-month growth in FTKs for all the major regions. Volumes are now back in line with the strong upward trend that began in early-2016. This lays the groundwork for very strong year-on-year growth in FTKs in 2017 as a whole.

The economic and trade backdrop has improved…

The robust recent performance of air freight has been set against a stronger global economic and trade backdrop. The new export orders component of the global purchasing managers’ index (PMI) remains close to a six-year high level, and is indicative of growing export order books for global manufacturers. In fact, at current levels, the measure is consistent with year-on-year FTK growth remaining robust in the region of 8% during Q3 2017. 

More generally, the recent outperformance of air freight relative to wider world trade has also reflected the ability of air cargo to allow firms to restock quickly at the start of pick-ups in the economic cycle. Indeed, the pick-up in annual FTK growth since early-2016 has coincided with a sharp decline in the (US) inventoryto-sales ratio between May and December 2016.

…but have we passed the cyclical growth peak?

That said, recent developments in both of these indicators suggest that the best of the cyclical upturn in air freight may now have passed. Indeed, while the new export orders component of the global manufacturing PMI is still consistent with growing export orders, the measure has fallen slightly since it peaked in February. Unless we see further gains in manufacturing export order books, the measure is consistent with air freight growth moderating towards the end of the year.

Moreover, although the inventory-to-sales ratio remains lower than it was a year ago, it has stopped falling and is currently rising modestly. As shown in Chart 4, this is also consistent with year-on-year FTK growth starting to moderate from its current pace over the second half of 2017.

Highlights of the May 2017 Air Freight Market Analysis

  • Global freight tonne kilometres (FTKs) grew by 12.7% year-on-year in May, up from 8.7% in April.
  • Having made a mixed start to 2017 in seasonally adjusted (SA) terms, freight volumes grew strongly in May compared to April. That said, industry drivers suggest that the best of the cyclical upturn may have passed.
  • International FTKs grew at a double-digit annual pace in May in all regions except Latin America.
  • Demand growth outpaced that of capacity in May, lifting the SA load factor to its highest level since July 2014. Download the full document here.

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