IATA November report suggests airfreight approaching edge of storm

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released preliminary data for November indicating total industry-wide cargo traffic, measured in freight tonne kilometers (FTKs), decreased by 1.1% year over year. Despite the decline in demand, IATA said November’s performance was the best since March 2019, and reflects the growing importance of large e-commerce events such as Singles Day in Asia and Black Friday.

Although remaining almost 2% lower than 2018, November’s growth outcome from the new export order component of the global manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is one of the best results recorded since early 2018, according to IATA. Therefore, if the historical relationship holds, IATA anticipates air freight may expect further improvement in growth in the the coming months.

“Demand for air cargo in November was down 1.1% compared with the previous year. That’s better than the 3.5% decline posted in October. But it is a big disappointment considering that the fourth quarter is usually air cargo’s peak season,” said IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “Looking forward, signs of a thawing in US-China trade tensions are good news. But trading conditions at present remain very challenging.”

Meanwhile, industry-wide airfreight capacity measured in available freight tonne kilometers (AFTKs), rose 2.9% y-o-y for the month and 2.1% for the first eleven months of 2019. Capacity growth has now “outstripped” growth in demand for the 19th consecutive month, according to IATA.

As air freight capacity growth remained above demand growth, the industry-wide load factor has fallen by a sizeable 2.0 percentage points for November 2019 and 2.6 percentage points for the first eleven months of 2019, compared to the same period the year prior.

Freight volumes fell across most key regions except for Europe and Africa. However, key industry drivers overall remained stable in November 2019 given the slower speed of y-o-y decline in industry-wide FTKs along with the stabilization in seasonally adjusted freight volumes, according to IATA. These indicators came on the back of positive developments in the U.S.-China trade war negotiations, which suggest airfreight at the end of 2019 into 2020 may see a return in growth.

Continuing the trend that emerged in mid-2018, Africa topped growth out of all regions with airfreight demand jumping 19.8% y-o-y in November. Capacity grew 13.7% y-o-y, despite the small size of the region’s market, which makes up only 1.6% of the world’s share of airfreight. Year-to-date, demand and capacity are up by 7.0% y-o-y and 13.7%, respectively. According to IATA, this trend continues to be underpinned, in part, by large-scale foreign investment, in particular from Asia, which creates new business and trade opportunities.

In November, Europe also showed signs of recovery. European carriers airfreight demand and capacity increased 2.6% and 4.0 y-o-y, respectively, in November. For the first eleven months of 2019 FTKs declined 1.7% while capacity has increased 3.8% y-o-y. IATA said growth in Europe, which makes up 23.3% of the global airfreight market, contributed the most to the improvement in the industry-wide growth rate.

Meanwhile, carriers based in North America, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia saw continued declines in total airfreight demand in the low- to mid-single-digits in November. Year-to-date North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia saw similar declines. Only Latin America saw flat growth in total demand over the first eleven months of 2019, compared to 2018.

Even with these mixed results, IATA’s report ultimately finds that the airfreight industry can expect to record positive y-o-y growth rates again in the near future due to improved U.S.-China relations and stabilizing FTKs.

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