A strong first half of 2012 enabled California to break the export record it set in 2011, but there's a catch.
Californias $161.7 billion in merchandise exports last year surpassed 2011s all-time record of $159.12 billion by about 1.6 percent, according to an analysis of todays U.S. Commerce Department trade figures by Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Beacon officials, however, took the news with a grain of salt.
They said that, adjusted for inflation, the 2012 total represented a year-over-year decline of 0.4 percent. They also said its likely that a long-term accounting of the 2012 figures will likely result in a downward revision, which happened in 2011.
Jock OConnell, Beacons international trade adviser, said that 2011 and 2012 export levels will likely end up in a virtual tie once all the calculating is done. OConnell said the good news is that both years topped pre-recession export levels.
Beacon said California businesses exported goods valued at $13.36 billion in December alone, down about 1.3 percent from $13.53 billion in December 2011.
Golden State exporters maintained momentum in last years first quarter, stumbled a bit in April and then saw a year-over-year decrease in July, breaking a streak of 32 consecutive months of gains. Export trade struggled due to Europes economic woes, cooling economies among key trade partners and other factors.
On the import side, California took in $376.3 billion in goods last year, up about 7 percent from $351.36 billion in 2011. State imports in December totaled $30.86 billion, up 4.7 percent over $29.48 billion in December 2011. Some goods entering California go to other states, so exports are considered a more accurate measure of the states trade health.
Nationally, the U.S. trade deficit plunged nearly 21 percent to $38.6 billion from November to December. Thats the smallest deficit in almost three years, a development the Commerce Department pinned on squarely on oil.
Exports of goods and services increased 2.1 percent, month-to-month, to $224.9 billion, as exports of oil and other petroleum products rose to the highest levels on record.
Imports shrank 2.7 percent to $224.9 billion on oil imports of 223 billion barrels, the fewest since February 1997.
The U.S. trade deficit also narrowed year-over-year, shrinking 3.5 percent to $540.4 billion in 2012.