As Reuters reports, in the end of 2018 clients rushed to import apparel, auto parts, chemicals and furniture, ahead of the US tariffs against Chinese goods. However, during February, these customers pulled back, with the US ocean imports falling 4.5%. This marks the first drop in two years, S&P Global Market Intelligence’s trade data firm Panjiva notes. In addition, freight forwarders' overall February reduction was in near lockstep, less by 4.4%.

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What is more, customers gathering stockpiled goods to avoid a new round of planned tariff increases, stopped buying, increasing a normal slowdown because of Chinese New Year factory closures. As a matter of fact, Switzerland’s Kuehne und Nagel, the largest ocean cargo freight forwarder, had its US imports falling 9.3% in February. As for DHL, their volumes were less by 8.6%. In addition, UPS volumes reduced 16.3%, and FedEx's 14.6% respectively.

In total, US imports from China experienced a fall of 9.9% in February, driving the majority of the monthly reduction for freight forwarders.

However, some experts believe that this slowdown could not have been avoided, due to the trade war between the US and China. Specifically, Stifel analyst David Ross, said that he is not worried with this situation, as these declines are not alarming yet.

On the other hand, Panjiva research analyst Chris Rogers, highlighted that the data suggests a widespread reduction in trade, with Europe, South Korea and Japan being key contributors.

Finally, DHL's Global Trade Barometer, which tracks a large portion of ocean and air freight, forecasted that growth will continue to lose momentum. Namely, US imports of consumer fashion goods and industrial raw materials will contract slightly for the next three months.