The Baltic Dry Index, a shipping index, is likely the best leading indicator we have for the trend in world trade. Its interpretation can be hazardous, as it measures not only finished goods in transit but also unfinished goods and raw materials. I have observed its climb over the last two months with scepticism, as China has been importing vast amount of iron ore, copper, rare earth metals and other raw materials. Is this an attempt by the Chinese to plow their US dollars into hard assets? In my view this is their plan. To slowly exchange their fiat US dollars for something with lasting value.
The index has turned down recently, and according to Brad Setser and others, many of the Asian economies are experiencing a drop in exports. http://blogs.cfr.org/setser/2009/06/09/the-chinese-puzzle-why-is-china-growing-with-other-export-powerhouses-arent/
It will be most interesting to watch the direction of the Baltic Dry Index over the next few months. I suspect we will see numbers flatten out and even fall as the "green shoots" turn out to be browner than we have been led to believe in the press.