IATA points to a further modest improvement in underlying cargo traffic in February, which after adjusted for calendar distortions grew 2% over the same month last year.
Air freight data for February released today by IATA shows traffic down 6.5% over February 2011. But that comparison is severely skewed by the extra day in February last year because of the leap year and the Chinese new year - and related factory closures in Asia - falling in February this year and January in 2012. Once adjusted for these distortions, IATA estimates growth last month of 2%
"February's air cargo performance has sustained the weak recovery that began in the fourth quarter of 2012," says IATA director general Tony Tyler. "This is welcome news after two consecutive years of contraction. It is even better news that this growth is expected to pick up moderately as the year progresses."
IATA upgraded its latest profits outlook for 2013 in part because of signs the freight market might have passed the bottom of the cycle. It nows sees cargo traffic growth - at nearly 3% - this year and expects yields to be flat rather than down 1.5% as it was forecasting three months ago.
While cargo traffic was down nearly 15% in February for Asia-Pacific carriers - the region with the biggest share of freight traffic - IATA says this was almost entirely due to factory closures during the Chinese New Year holilday.
"Chinese business confidence levels are increasing and are being supported by rising employment and trade activity," IATA notes.
But it adds that while industrial production and business confidence measures have been improving since the third quarter of last year, this is not year seen in air cargo markets. "Demand for sea shipments already reflects the recovery in some parts of the world. But we are not yet seeing the positive impact of this in air cargo markets," says Tyler. "While it remains to be seen if this is a long-term modal shift, it is clear that sea shipping is becoming a stronger competitor to air cargo."