Pictured here on June 24, 2022, workers make umbrellas at a factory in Jinjiang City, Fujian Province, China.
Yuan He | Publishing in the future | Getty Images
European sales of Guangdong-based coffee maker HiBrew slumped after a surge in sterling last year when pent-up global demand drove purchases of Chinese consumer goods.
Sales are down 30% to 40% so far this year, in sharp contrast to business growth of 70% last year, according to general manager Zeng Qiuping.
Zeng said the rising cost of living in the United States and Europe as well as importers awaiting potential tariff cuts between the United States and China contributed to the downturn. But he is optimistic that the current calm is just a passing picture and that foreign demand will return.
While HiBrew doesn’t sell much to the United States, Zeng said fellow exporters tell him that orders from the United States have also dwindled.
Separately, freight costs are starting to fall now that they have jumped to record levels during the pandemic, suggesting that demand for the logistics needed for deliveries is boiling, analysts say.
This is good news for exporters and importers, but there is another red flag.
While traders previously had to deal with supply chain bottlenecks and disruptions, they may now need to contend with lower demand especially in advanced economies. Analysts cautioned that these dynamics point to recessionary pressures.
In fact, spot ocean freight rates between China and the east and west coasts of the United States are down, said Chapsey Levy, founder of Shifl, a digital supply chain platform.
He attributed the declines to lower US consumer demand and said many US retailers were sitting on excess inventory.
He added that sea freight rates are intrinsically linked to the retail industry as sea freight accounts for more than half of all imports into the country.
“Lower retail demand has lowered ocean spot freight rates and continues to do so,” Levy said. “I wouldn’t call this drop in demand a recession yet, but it looks like things are heading toward turbulent waters.”
“On an anecdotal level, some customers are experiencing a drop in sales especially on some high-value items and less important items.”
During the pandemic, shipping costs have skyrocketed as a result of supply chain disruptions and shutdowns.
Scheffel said ocean spot freight rates between China and the United States were about 3.5 times higher between January 2020 and May this year.
A cargo ship sits in the Port of Miami on June 09, 2022 in Miami Beach, Florida.
Joe Riddell | Getty Images
Higher logistical costs were absorbed by manufacturers or passed on to consumers, resulting in higher inflation.
But now, new import orders from the United States have slowed, and companies such as Samsung US, the seventh largest importer into the United States, have cut their planned July inventory orders in half, according to Shifl data..
Target, the second-largest US importer, also announced its intention to cut inventory orders due to overstocked inventory, according to Scheffel.
Even after the lockdown was lifted in Shanghai, Levy said, shippers received a lukewarm response from importers.
Drewry’s Global Composite Container Indexwhich tracks shipping costs for 40-foot containers on major routes, has fallen more than 30% since September.
Container costs across major routes – such as Shanghai to New York, and from Shanghai to Rotterdam – have fallen by up to 24% compared to last year.
“The US distribution system is full of things,” Mark Levinson, an independent economist, said on LinkedIn. “Company stocks in April rose about 18% from a year ago.”
“Why is inventory overstocking? Simply enough, consumers have stopped spending while giving up. With shopping habits returning to pre-pandemic standards, inflation killing purchasing power, and home sales stalling, consumer demand is also slowing.”
The trend was evident in Europe, North America and parts of Asia, Levinson said.
Economists see headwinds in demand and spending.
With the costs of staples like food and utilities rising, there isn’t much left for American consumers to spend on, especially discretionary items, Citi’s chief global economist Nathan Sheets told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday.
“My sense is that consumers, especially lower-income consumers, are starting to collapse. We see that in consumer appreciation,” he said.
There are indications that spending on goods is now “levelling” across advanced economies, Jennifer McKeown, head of global economics service at Capital Economics, said in a note at the end of June.
While consumers They are still spending on services like dining — which is making a comeback as lockdowns ease — as demand for goods is “negatively affected by higher prices and the relatively strong passage from higher interest rates to spending on consumer durables,” McKeown said.
Yong Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management, agreed.
Ma said demand for goods is facing a “triple whammy” – shifts in consumer spending toward services, inflation straining budgets and fears of a recession.
“If the economic downturn is not severe or prolonged, it is likely that by the spring of next year the supply and demand situation will be better matched,” Ma said.
“A more prolonged downturn would drag the stock correction for a longer period.”
On another note, higher interest rates won’t help either, said Ariane Curtis, global economist at Capital.
“Weakening final global demand for goods, due to gradual normalization in spending patterns, lower real incomes, and higher interest rates, will act as headwinds for global trade in the coming months,” Curtis said.
But she told CNBC she does not expect a global recession.
“We believe that a slowdown in trade or a normalization of demand will lead to a significant slowdown in global growth,” she said.
“It won’t go back to a pre-COVID situation against the backdrop of cost-of-living pressures and ongoing supply shortages, but it won’t be a recession either, at least not in most countries.”