A monthly confidence index of international shippers and freight forwarders operating on European-based trade lanes increased in January for the third consecutive month. This increase indicates a faint trace of optimism among companies whose commerce touches the beleaguered continent.
The survey, conducted by U.S. investment firm Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and British research and consulting firm Transport Intelligence Ltd., measures the monthly expectations of companies shipping by air and ocean between the U.S. and Europe and between Europe and Asia. According to the survey, the overall index in January stood at 48.8, a 0.8 index point increase over December.
Despite the sequential increase, the overall number is still below 50, suggesting market conditions are weaker than the seasonal norm, according to a statement issued today by Stifel, Nicolaus. Air and ocean freight markets reported confidence readings that were subpar for this time of year, according to the survey.
The survey gauges confidence in current shipping activity as well as expectations for shipping six months from now. In a somewhat encouraging sign for future shipping activity, January marked the first month since last April that the current and expected environment showed improvement.
The ocean freight index climbed 3.5 percent to 51.8, registering its biggest improvement in current expectations since last March, the survey found. Confidence in Asia-to-Europe activity registered the largest increase, up 3.1 index points from December, according to the survey.
Businesses shipping in the Europe-to-U.S. and Europe-to -Asia trade lanes expressed the most confidence about business conditions six months out, the survey found. This could be due to expected continued weakness in the euro, which would make European exports more competitive in world markets.
The international airfreight segment, which has been weak for more than a year, continued to be sluggish in January, according to the survey. However, the index measuring expectation six months out rose sequentially in January for the first time in eight months, the survey said. Only the Europe-to-U.S. lane was not expecting to see better conditions by mid-year, according to survey results.
About 56 percent of respondents said they experienced no seasonal bump in the 2012 peak pre-holiday shipping season, while 44 percent said they saw a seasonal increase, according to the survey.