December 2017 Sea Containers Counts Show 2017 Was A Good Year

The December month-over-month import and export container counts are marginally weaker than the previous month. But overall, 2017 container counts for imports are at record levels, whilst exports enjoyed the best year since 2014.

Analyst Opinion of Container Movements

Simply looking at this month versus last month - the growth rates were marginally weaker for both exports and imports.

Looking at the three month rolling averages were insignificantly weaker for imports and suggesting continuing moderate economic growth.

As imports are growing much faster than exports, the trade balance should worsen.

(Click on image to enlarge)

This data set is based on the Ports of LA and Long Beach which account for much (approximately 40%) of the container movement into and out of the United States - and these two ports report their data significantly earlier than other USA ports. Most of the manufactured goods move between countries in sea containers (except larger rolling items such as automobiles). This pulse point is an early indicator of the health of the economy.

Consider that imports final sales are added to GDP usually several months after import - while the import cost itself is subtracted from GDP in the month of import. Export final sales occur around the date of export. Container counts do not include bulk commodities such as oil or autos which are not shipped in containers. For this month:

  Acceleration Month-over-Month Change from One Year Ago Year to Date vs. Previous Year Acceleration 3 Month Rolling Average 3 Month Rolling Average vs. Average One Year Ago
Imports -0.8 % +9.8 % +7.4 % -0.8 % +7.1 %
Exports -1.3 % +0.7 % +1.4 % +1.7 % -1.7 %

As the data is very noisy - the best way to look at this data normally is the 3 month rolling averages. There is a direct linkage between imports and USA economic activity - and the change in growth in imports foretells real change in economic growth. Export growth is an indicator of competitiveness and global economic growth.

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