H1-2021: World Trade Performance by industry

Global trade in goods appears to have ushered in a new season of increases. Widespread recovery in sector terms, with a few exceptions


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After closing the year less negatively than initially assumed, in the first half of the year, world trade at constant prices, net of nominal price changes, was characterised by a broad and rapid recovery, which actually led it towards an acceleration in the pace of expansion and systemic growth that exceeded expectations. Indeed, world trade in goods has not only largely recovered pre-crisis levels, but seems to have ushered in a new season of increases comparable to the expansionary pace of 2017-2018. The result thus paints a picture of world trade which, after a "V-shaped" recovery, seems to have resumed from the phase of weakness that had characterised 2019, due to rising protectionist tensions.

Expectations for the second half of the year also remain broadly positive, as recounted in the article World Trade surpasses Projections: Growth intensifies in Q2-2021, with the industrial production index, estimated on the basis of the manufacturing PMI, remaining well above the 50 threshold. Notably, the new foreign orders component of the Global Manufacturing PMI posted further growth, albeit at lower rates than in previous months, compared to values of 53.2 in June and 52.7 in July.

In order to deepen which industries are mostly supporting the new expansive phase of trade, the following map shows the dynamics of the main industries of the ExportPlanning Information System classification. In particular, these are positioned according to the rate of change recorded in 2020 (x-axis) and that recorded in the first half of 2021 compared to the corresponding period of 2019 (y-axis); the size of the circle is proportional to the value of trade in 2019.

World trade by sector (at constant price, USD 2012)

Source: ExportPlanning

In the upper right area of the graph we find those industries whose performance has been particularly resilient during the annus horribilis and which continue to show increasing dynamics. In particular, it is a question of consumption trends "children" of the new purchasing habits imposed by the pandemic context.
The expansive phase of the ICT industry (F1) and of the relative supply chain (D1) continues, showing a progressive consolidation of the international relevance of the demand for electronic devices. On the consumer goods front, in addition to increases in the Pharma industry (E4), global demand for the Home System (E3) strengthened, strongly sustained by the Home-Furnishing and Household Appliances segments.

For capital goods, signs of a gradual recovery in the world's investment are also confirmed, driven particularly by demand for Industrial Machinery and Equipment (F2, F4) rather than Industrial plants (F5), which are still at weakly below 2019 levels.
Encouraging signs are also emerging from global trade in Means of Transport (F3) which, despite persistent weakness in components (D3), seems to have closed the gap with corresponding pre-crisis levels. The result is largely driven by the marked increase marked by hybrid and electric cars in recent months: global demand for the segment has in fact more than doubled compared to the first half of 2019. In contrast, trade in more traditionally powered vehicles still signals broad and persistent weakness, not recovering the corresponding 2019 levels.
Conversely, global trade in trains, rolling stock, and aircraft appears to be the most adversely affected.

On the contrary, the difficulties of the Fashion-Personnel System and of the Textile sector (E2, B2) are still persisting, with values respectively -3% and -5.8% lower than the pre-crisis ones. The industry is still strongly affected by the contraction in consumption of luxury goods and those more closely linked to social life.