SA’s BULK export volumes fell 6.1% year on year in May to 13.6-million tonnes, after rising 6.2% year on year in April to the second-highest monthly total of 16.2-million tonnes, data from the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) showed on Tuesday.

The record monthly tonnage of 16.4-million tonnes was achieved in January 2015.

The April year-on-year increase was the first such rise in 2016 after declines of 11.7%, 15.7% and 12.2% in March, February and January, respectively. This followed a 7.3% increase in 2015 to a record annual tonnage of 168-million tonnes.

Bulk exports out of Richards Bay, which are mostly coal, eased 3.1% year on year in May to 7.6-million tonnes, after jumping 19.3% year on year in April to 8.6-million tonnes and growing 8.2% in 2015 to 93-million tonnes. As Richards Bay Coal Terminal no longer releases operational statistics, economists are finding it more difficult to track economic performance in SA in a timeous manner.

Despite the 40% plunge in the iron ore price in 2015, bulk exports out of Saldanha, which are mostly iron ore, increased 12.7% in 2015 to 63.4-million tonnes, but in May 2016 there was a 16.7% year on year fall to 4.8-million tonnes. If Saldanha exports were to be excluded, total bulk exports would have grown 0.8% year on year in May.

The surprise in the May data was the 35.9% year on year rise in bulk exports from other ports such as Durban to 1,178,248 tonnes after falling 19.3% in 2015 to 11.6-million tonnes. Despite the April year on year rise, total bulk exports are still down 7.8% year on year in the first five months of 2016.