Hong Kong's sluggish air cargo market rebounded slightly last month after faltering growth across the industry in the first half fuelled speculation that higher oil prices were taking a toll on consumer spending. Business at the airport's biggest freight handler, Hongkong Air Cargo Terminals Ltd (Hactl), expanded a comparative 5.6 per cent in the first half after a strong performance last month resurrected prospects for the rest of the year. Hactl moved more than 198,000 tonnes of air freight last month through its SuperTerminal One complex, the world's biggest international air cargo centre. First-half tonnage reached 1.12 million tonnes, keeping the firm on track for another record year even though growth had slowed to half of last year's interim pace. 'If you talk to the players, most are remaining relatively positive. But it is worrying,' said Peter Hilton, head of regional transportation research at Credit Suisse First Boston. 'There are plusses and minuses all over the place but growth is slowing and that appears to be an issue.' Closely watched as a three-month leading indicator of economic trends, aviation executives saw global air freight volumes in May post negative growth for the first time in two years. The 265 member airlines of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which offer 94 per cent of international scheduled services, carried 1.6 per cent less cargo in May than a year earlier. In the Asia-Pacific, the world's most vibrant economic region since the turn of the millennium, the volume of airfreight carried declined 2.7 per cent year on year, according to Iata. Freight volumes were also flat in May at the 1,540 airports monitored by Airports Council International, ekeing out just 0.2 per cent. While a strong performance last month from a market leader such as Hactl may assuage some fears of a global slowdown, doubts are expected to linger as long as the price of oil continues to hover around US$60 a barrel. 'It is something that we are keeping an eye on because most governments expect their economies to slow this year,' said Freddie Khoo, vice-president for west Asia, Africa and alliances at Singapore Airlines Cargo. 'I don't think it's time for the alarm bells yet. But it's definitely something we will keep a close watch on.'