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Supply Lines: Outlook for whiplash

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Supply Lines

Almost a year after the Covid-19 pandemic officially began, the global economy is still throwing off conflicting signals about the pace and direction of trade flows.

The World Trade Organization’s latest goods trade barometer highlights the mixed messages:

  • Export orders and automotive products — which the WTO calls some of the most reliable leading indicators — peaked recently and show signs of decelerating
  • Ocean and air freight measures are both rising, suggesting faster-than-average growth, although recent high-frequency data show that container shipping dipped in the start of 2021
  • Electronic components and raw materials are rising, possibly because of inventory stockpiling
  • Farm commodities remain on the upswing

With services largely shut down or operating at lower capacity, merchandise trade recovered sharply in the second half of 2020. But maybe the boom has run its course. To sum it all up, the WTO says “these trends suggests that trade’s upward momentum may be about to peak if it has not already done so.”

The whiplash-inducing outlook continued with economic indicators from three of the top 10 U.S. trading partners in Asia and Europe this week.

Exporters in Germany are noticeably more optimistic. An Ifo report released Tuesday showed manufacturing export expectations reached the highest since September 2018, owing to China’s recovery and stronger U.S. production.

Demand for the chips used inside cars, touch screens and work-from-home gear fueled the biggest jump in South Korea’s early-month exports since late 2018, a report showed Monday. South Korea’s early export figures increased 16.7% in the first 20 days of February from a year earlier, the customs office said.

Over the weekend Taiwan’s government said it sees 2021 economic growth being the fastest in seven years, thanks to the world’s appetite for semiconductors. Gross domestic product will likely expand 4.64% in 2021, the statistics bureau said, compared with a forecast of 3.83% made late last year.

One thing that’s challenging economists who are trying to gauge the recovery’s speed: government figures that are often weeks or months old.

So Bloomberg Economics is using higher-frequency data that are currently showing China is rebounding from its usual slowdown for the Lunar New Year holiday and emerging-market activity elsewhere that’s staying steady at around 20% below its pre-virus level. Activity rose in Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain and Israel. It remained relatively stable in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.

Coming up: Catch day two of the Aspen Institutes RE$ET Conference with Bloomberg Economics by clicking here

Brendan Murray in London

Charted Territory

The cost of shipping goods from France to Britain has surged in the past year both because of Brexit and the coronavirus, high-frequency data show. Cargo rates into the U.K. from France has risen 44.7% in the year through February, according to TimConsult, a unit of global logistics platform Transporeon.

Today’s Must Reads

  • New tariff sheriff | President Joe Biden is banking on Katherine Tai’s low profile and pragmatic style to distance the new U.S. administration from the chaos that defined their predecessor’s trade agenda.
  • WTO hopes dashed | The Biden administration dashed hopes for a softer approach to the World Trade Organization by pursuing a pair of his predecessor’s strategies that critics say risk undermining the international trading system.
  • On top again | China regained its position as India’s top trade partner in 2020, as New Delhi’s reliance on imported machines outweighed its efforts to curb commerce with Beijing after a bloody border conflict.
  • Phone plug | Huawei unveiled a high-end foldable smartphone to try and stake out a place in the fast-expanding category, revealing that revenue and profit barely grew in 2020 at the height of Trump-era sanctions.
  • Rubber meets road | Goodyear agreed to buy Cooper Tire for about $2.8 billion, strengthening its position as No. 1 in the U.S. market and almost doubling its presence in China, where auto sales are surging again.
  • Sweet ride | Shipping delays currently plaguing soybean exports from Brazil are set to spill over to sugar. The queue of vessels waiting at ports in the world’s top sugar and soybean producer is so gigantic that bottlenecks will likely still be there in May, when sugar normally starts being put through some of the very same terminals. 

On the Bloomberg Terminal

  • Asia footprint | Kuehne + Nagel’s announcement to purchase a majority stake in Apex Logistics will increase its exposure to Asia to 20%, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
  • Taking issue | Bloomberg Law writes the European Union’s Brexit trade deal with the U.K. creates legal uncertainty for personal data protection and risks friction with the bloc’s legislative framework, according to a EU privacy watchdog.
  • Use the AHOY function to track global commodities trade flows.
  • Click HERE for automated stories about supply chains.
  • See BNEF for BloombergNEF’s analysis of clean energy, advanced transport, digital industry, innovative materials, and commodities.
  • Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus and here for maps and charts.

Like Supply Lines?

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