February 2019 Sea Container Counts Indicating A Slowing Economy

The February year-over-year import/export container count growth was significantly weaker than last month, and year-over-year and year-to-date growth is now in contraction.

Analyst Opinion of Container Movements

Simply looking at this month versus last month - this was a weaker month. The three-month rolling average declined for imports but remains positive. The three-month rolling average for exports is deep in contraction year-over-year.

Imports container counts give an indication of the U.S. economy's state and the soft data continues to indicate a slowing economy. Exports are saying the global economy is weak as well as the dollar is too strong.

Container data is consistent with other transport data indicating a slowing economy.

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 -11.0 % -10.2 % -4.6 % -1.4 % +2.0 %
Exports -10.9 % -14.2 % -8.9 % -0.9 % -9.3 %

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 a real change in economic growth. Export growth is an indicator of competitiveness and global economic growth.

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