Last year proved to be a modest and uneven one for the global economy, as a confluence of factors limited the growth of global trade. The year was marked by the spread of the Ebola virus and heightened geopolitical tensions due to the advancement of ISIS and sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. But there was a bright spot: the revival of the U.S. economy.
Among major economies, the United States continued to gain momentum, while Europe struggled to stabilize its growth trajectory. Despite a slow start to the year, growth in the U.S. expanded by 5.0 percent and 2.6 percent in Q3 and Q4, respectively. In Europe, the U.K. economy expanded at slower rates of just 0.7 percent in Q3 and 0.5 percent in Q4. Positive economic activity in both countries is attributed to improved labor markets and accommodating monetary policies. Political uncertainty looms large across the European region, however, as elections are scheduled in 2015 for the United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
Elsewhere, China maintained its dominance as the leader in global trade (see Figure 2) even as the government struggled with finding a balance between economic growth and reform. Japan's economy is again on the verge of a recessionary period, as "Abenomics" has failed to deliver on promises. South Korea's high reliance on exports, limited domestic market, and rapidly aging population are all considered to be impediments to growth. Lastly, Brazil's President Rousseff has brought in a new economic team tasked with addressing budget deficits and boosting consumer spending.
Final numbers are not in yet, but global container throughput is expected to have grown slightly by 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter after dipping to 0.32 percent in Q3 (see Figure 1). Total trade is expected to have grown by 1.31 percent in Q4, down from 2.22 percent in Q3. Total trade remained relatively flat throughout 2014, which suggests that it is holding steady despite the variation in momentum among nations.