Freight Transport

Freight traffic is the summary of the total transportation of goods compiled by the NBS, and published monthly. The figures are usually denominated in 10mn-1bn kilometer/tons, or km/tons, which means the equivalent of moving one ton of goods one kilometer.

To compile the data, the NBS relies on a number of sources, from the Ministry of Transport to the Civil Aviation Authority of China, with highway tolls and weighing stations contributing to the road traffic data. Detailed records are kept by all major stakeholders in the transport sector so aggregating the information is relatively straight forward – albeit in a mind bogglingly vast kind of a way.

One of the reasons why so many people are interested in this number is that is seen by many as a proxy for the health of the real economy. And one that is potentially less liable to political manipulation than national output (GDP). The reason for this is simple, yet interesting. The figure describes the physical movement of goods and raw materials around the country and in a modern economy, this movement is a good way to measure how much is being produced and consumed.

In addition to this, in recent years, as globalization has progressed and supply chain management has been refined, supply chain managers have become extremely efficient at gauging demand keeping inventories to a minimum. Given this responsiveness freight figures tend to be a more immediate indicator of economic health than traditional figures, like employment, GDP accounting or asset prices like real estate.

The reason for this is that employers are usually reluctant to let workers go as they may be difficult to replace and asset holders often hold on to assets hoping to avoid selling them at a loss. In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, the long lines of empty container trucks lined up outside ports in Shenzhen waiting for cargo were a telling reminder of the extent to which collapsing global demand impacted China’s Guangdong region.

The data can be broken down in to:

  • Total Volume of Freight
  • Turnover Volume of Freight
  • Total Volume of Freight Throughput in Major Coastal Port