January 7, 2014

California export trade stayed on a roll in November

California businesses shipped merchandise valued at $15.22 billion in November, up 14.2 percent from $13.33 billion in November 2012, according to an analysis of Tuesday’s U.S. Commerce Department figures.

Some segments of California’s economic recovery have been characterized as tenuous, but export trade has been blasting along like a runaway train in recent months.

California businesses shipped merchandise valued at $15.22 billion in November, a robust 14.2 percent surge over $13.33 billion in November 2012, according to an analysis of Tuesday’s U.S. Commerce Department figures by Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. By comparison, U.S. merchandise exports rose by 5.9 percent over the same period.

The state’s November 2012 figures were slightly depressed by a labor action at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the International Longshore and Warehouse Union strike shut down 10 of 14 container terminals at the two ports for four days.

Even so, analysts called the latest figures impressive, especially coming on the heels of $15.35 billion in exports in October, an all-time record for that month.

“After a sputtering start to the year, California’s exporters are finishing 2013 with a remarkably strong surge,” said Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser. “Exports are definitely helping light the way for the state’s economic recovery.”

Through 11 months of 2013, Beacon said California businesses shipped $153.53 billion in merchandise, well ahead of the $148.34 billion recorded in the same period of 2012.

Beacon said the November numbers were driven by a nearly 17 percent year-over-year surge in manufactured exports – $9.63 billion vs. $8.25 billion in November 2012. Exports of non-manufactured goods – chiefly agricultural produce and raw materials – totaled $2.45 billion, up 25 percent from $1.96 billion in November 2012. Re-exports were relatively flat, rising from $3.12 billion to $3.14 billion year over year.

Jordan Levine, Beacon’s director of economic research, said California’s spike in manufactured goods has been accompanied by the addition of “4,300 new manufacturing positions over the past year. It’s a positive sign after several decades of decline associated with the loss of much of our aerospace industry in the 1990s and the technological change that has accompanied the computer age.”

Beacon’s comparison of the September-November export totals with the same period in 2012 found that state shipments of transportation equipment increased nearly 13 percent to $4.8 billion, which analysts said was largely driven by a resurgence of exports from the civilian aerospace sector. Other sizable year-over-year gains came in farm produce exports, up about 18 percent to $4.5 billion, and processed food products, up 17.8 percent to $2.71 billion. Exports of petroleum products rose 21.2 percent to $1.76 billion.

On the import side, California took in $33.7 billion in November, up 2.4 percent from $32.91 billion in November 2012. Some goods entering California go to other states, so exports are considered a more accurate measure of the state’s trade health.

Nationally, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in four years in November, $34.3 billion, as gains in energy production and strong sales of American-made airplanes, autos and machinery lifted exports to an all-time high.

Exports of goods and services rose 0.9 percent month-over-month to $194.9 billion, helped by a 5.6 percent rise in petroleum exports. Imports totaled more than $229 billion, up nearly 1.5 percent from October.

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