Britain's international trade continued to sag in August, with total merchandise trade falling by 2.4% year over year, Panjiva's analysis of official data for imports and exports shows. That reverses a 2.3% improvement seen in July, and is mostly due to a 5.3% drop in trade with the European Union.
Trade with the EU included a 4.3% slide in imports, suggesting that any pre-Brexit stockpiling may have been left to the last minute, if at all given earlier inventory increases may not yet have been unwound.
In terms of essential products there was a 5.5% year-over-year drop in imports of food from the EU in August, marking the fourth straight month of declines. Instead there was a 5.3% rise from outside the EU, perhaps indicating a shift in tastes and/or supply chain structuring. Imports of medicines and other healthcare products from the EU fell by 19.0% and those from the rest of the world dropped 28.2%. A significant part of healthcare purchasing in the U.K. is handled by the National Health Service, which may not have the free cash flow for significant front-loading.
Shipments of fuels — including refined oil products but not electricity — dropped by 19.8% from the EU and by 28.2% from the rest of the world. The volatility partly reflects shifts in the world oil price, though Britain's own-production of crude oil should reduce risks from tensions in the Middle East.
The one bright spot in August's figures is that exports to the rest of the world outside the EU climbed by 12.2% year-over-year after rising 7.4% in July. That's likely been helped by the weakening pound and was led in sterling terms by a 49.0% surge in shipments to China and a 13.1% rise in exports to the U.S.
The jump in exports to China can be largely disregarded given it is mostly driven by "unspecified items" which include non-monetary gold and is therefore highly volatile. Excluding those items exports to China actually fell by 5.3%.
Shipments to the U.S, meanwhile are on a firmer footing. Exports of organic chemicals jumped by 63.3% and pharmaceuticals by 14.0%. Panjiva data shows major shippers of those products to the U.S. by sea include Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, Croda International PLC and Norbrook Laboratories Ltd.
There was also a 37.0% jump in exports of cars from the U.K. to the U.S. That's come despite slowing sales of foreign light trucks in the U.S., which fell by 4.2% year over year in September while sales of foreign cars dropped 11.1%, Panjiva's analysis of official figures shows.
That combination means that there may have been a significant inventory build in British cars at U.S. ports and dealerships for major shippers including Jaguar Land Rover Holdings Ltd., Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG.
Christopher Rogers is a senior researcher at Panjiva, which is a business line of S&P Global Market Intelligence, a division of S&P Global Inc. This content does not constitute investment advice, and the views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
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