Container transport and US enterprise cycle fluctuations

The globalisation of the economic climate since the 1990s has absent hand-in-hand with an enlargement of seaborne container trade. With 90% of non-bulk dry cargo globally remaining delivered by container, there is a shut romantic relationship amongst the quantity of container trade and domestic financial exercise (e.g. Altomonte et al. 2019, Cosar and Demir 2017). For instance, domestic production corporations count on imports of containerised raw products and intermediate merchandise and containerised exports of finished products and solutions, while shoppers routinely order concluded goods arriving in the US by container. 

Worldwide supply chains count on container trade

Disruptions of container trade may well occur for several good reasons, like delivery delays, port congestion, and labour strife. Any disruption in the offer chain somewhere else in the world is also most likely to bring about delays in container shipments. These delays can lead to huge and common disruptions in industrial creation in the US. A lack of semi-conductors in Asia, for illustration, could sluggish the creation of vehicles in the US, although also proscribing the availability of consumer electronics for acquire in the US. Likewise, variations in trade policy may lead to disruptions to the source chain, as exemplified by some of the policy shifts underneath the Trump administration. 

The macroeconomic importance of disruptions of world supply chains is nicely recognised amongst policymakers. For case in point, in a 2006 report, the Congressional Price range Office environment stressed that “[c]ontainerized imports include things like both equally concluded goods and intermediate inputs, some of which are significant to maintaining U.S. manufacturers’ … provide chains. This kind of supply chains … leave suppliers vulnerable to disruption if a necessary part does not reach an assembly plant in time. The deficiency of important pieces could lessen output, work, and money for unique corporations by amounts greater than the benefit of the delayed part—and in regions and businesses significantly eliminated from the port the place a disruption occurred” (p. 1). However, there has been small or no quantitative evaluation of this difficulty because of in part to the absence of ideal knowledge (Cernat 2014 discusses the info revolution in international trade investigation).

Keeping track of North American container trade

In a new paper (Kilian et al. 2021), we developed a monthly index of the quantity of North American container trade starting off in 1997. This index not only demonstrates sustained declines in the quantity of container transport involved with the Good Recession and the Covid-19 economic downturn, but also big fluctuations affiliated with frictions to container trade this kind of as the labour strife on the Pacific coast in 2014/2015 (see Figure 1).

Determine 1 North American container trade index, January 2008 to March 2021

Notes: Primarily based on the number of twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) containers processed in the main North American ports. Seasonally adjusted and log-linearly detrended. 

Incorporating container trade into macro models 

As we demonstrate in our paper, this index can be incorporated into a structural vector autoregressive model of the US overall economy that includes, in addition, a evaluate of serious particular use and US production output. The model facilitates the identification of shocks to domestic US demand from customers as well as foreign need for US produced merchandise, whilst accounting for sudden frictions in North American container trade related with shipping delays, port congestion, labour strife, and foreign offer chain bottlenecks. The design exhibits that, on normal, shocks similar to frictions in the container shipping and delivery market have a nontrivial influence on the US financial state. They account for 29% of the variation in US producing output relative to trend and 38% of the variation in detrended actual own consumption.

Implications for the organization cycle

The design may well also be used to compare the determinants of US producing output and genuine personalized intake through the Covid-19 economic downturn of 2020-21 and the Good Economic downturn of 2007-09. We demonstrate that, as opposed to for the duration of the Excellent Recession, when a gradual decline in production output pushed by decrease domestic need was bolstered by a persistent decline in overseas demand from customers, the key determinant of the US economic contraction in early 2020 was a sharp fall in domestic desire. Furthermore, whereas decrease domestic need triggered only a modest decrease in genuine personal use all through the Good Economic downturn, it established a sharp fall in authentic personalized usage in 2020.

The recovery of US authentic own usage

The central dilemma of curiosity for policymakers is to what extent US real personal usage has recovered relative to its craze since the pandemic commenced. The uncooked info paint an encouraging photograph. For case in point, detrended real own consumption of merchandise and services as of March 2021 experienced recovered to 94% of its stage in February 2020, correct right before the pandemic slowed the US financial state. This proof may appear to counsel that domestic need in the US experienced all but recovered, but a decomposition of the information centered on the structural model reveals that the domestic desire ingredient of authentic personal consumption experienced only recovered to 78% as of March 2021. The variation is accounted for by robust tailwinds from good international demand shocks and primarily from favourable container market place shocks.

Consistent with anecdotal proof that individuals persisted in purchasing goods all through the pandemic, even as they curtailed purchases of numerous solutions, a very similar analysis for genuine private merchandise usage demonstrates that client buys of products not only have been substantially considerably less prone to the downturn in 2020, but have been booming as of late. By March 2021, they had recovered by 191%, in comparison with only 94% for total use. While other shocks also contributed to this growth, it is predominantly pushed by the domestic need component, which on your own propels goods usage to 150% p.c over pre-pandemic degrees. 

Even more disaggregating these benefits into long lasting and nondurable merchandise usage shows that the domestic demand element of the consumption of durables dropped considerably more in early 2020 than that of overall items use. This drop is much less most likely to mirror a drop in latent client need than the inability of companies to provide durable goods things these as home furnishings, fridges, or other residence appliances in a timely way, which prevented that desire from staying realised. In contrast, the domestic demand component of the consumption of nondurables spiked in March 2020, when people stocked up on essentials this sort of as foodstuff and cleansing products and solutions, and declined only modestly mid-12 months.

The restoration of durables consumption to 190% of its pre-pandemic degree in early 2021 was mostly driven by domestic demand, reinforced not only by minimized frictions in container shipping marketplaces, but also by higher foreign need for durables generated in the US. The recovery of nondurables intake to 184% of its pre-pandemic amount, in distinction, was pushed practically completely by domestic desire.

The restoration of US manufacturing output

As opposed to actual own intake, the recovery in detrended US production output to 87% of its pre-pandemic amount has been considerably slower. As in the scenario of own usage, this recovery obscures that the domestic demand from customers part of producing output only experienced recovered to 57% by March 2021. The distinction is accounted for by favourable foreign desire and container marketplace shocks. This proof underscores that the growth in trade volumes may possibly be more quickly than changes in financial exercise, adding to current evidence that trade growth need not be proportionate to all round financial progress (e.g. IRC Trade Task Power 2016). 

Concluding remarks

Our investigation highlights the close one-way links involving container trade and domestic financial activity in a globalised financial system. A simple product permits us to integrate frictions in container shipping markets into macroeconomic assessment. The design indicates that the recovery of domestic need in the US, as of March 2021, had been slower than the raw details for individual usage expenses and producing output could appear to counsel. In section, this weak point displays continued very low demand from customers for buyer companies, driven by Covid-19 relevant limitations. As these constraints simplicity, a person would anticipate the recovery of domestic demand from customers to speed up.

Authors’ note: The sights expressed in this column are those of the authors and must not be attributed to the Federal Reserve Financial institution of Dallas or the Federal Reserve Process.


Altomonte, C, L Bonacorsi and I Colantone (2019), “Trade and growth in the age of world benefit chains”,, 28 January.

Cernat, L (2014), “Towards ‘trade policy investigation 2.0’: From nationwide comparative benefit to business-level trade data”,, 8 December. 

Congressional Budget Office environment (2006), The Financial Costs of Disruptions in Container Shipping, Report to the Long lasting Subcommittee on Investigations, Committee on Homeland Protection and Governmental Affairs, United States Senate.

Cosar, K and B Demir (2017), “Containers and globalisation: Estimating the value framework of maritime shipping”,, 13 June.

IRC Trade Undertaking Force (2016), “Understanding the Weakness in World-wide Trade: What is the New Regular?”, Occasional Paper Sequence No. 178, European Central Bank.

Kilian, L, N Nomikos and X Zhou (2021), “Container Trade and the U.S. Restoration”, CEPR Discussion Paper 16277.