On a straight-up, dollar-value basis, California broke its year-old export record in 2012, which pleased trade analysts but didn't have them popping champagne corks.
California's $161.7 billion in merchandise exports last year surpassed 2011's all-time record of $159.12 billion by about 1.6 percent, according to an analysis of Friday's U.S. Commerce Department trade figures by Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with Bay Area and Los Angeles offices.
Beacon officials, however, stressed that, adjusted for inflation, the 2012 total represented a year-over-year decline of 0.4 percent.
They also said it's likely that a long-term accounting of the 2012 total will result in a downward revision, which happened in 2011.
Jock O'Connell, Beacon's international trade adviser, said the 2011 and 2012 export levels will likely end up in a virtual tie once all the calculating is done. The good news, O'Connell said, is that both years topped pre-recession export levels.
Golden State exporters maintained momentum in last year's 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. Europe's economic woes and slower growth among key trading partners were cited as a drag on exports.
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.
The relatively weak close-out of 2012 was primarily the result of a sharp drop in shipments of electronic components to Mexico factories. O'Connell said exported components are bound for "mostly foreign-owned assembly plants that exist primarily to produce goods for export," primarily back to the U.S.
O'Connell also noted that while the economies of several of California's principal trading partners had been "moving through a sluggish stage," the state's export trade has been "severely pummeled by the shrinking worldwide demand for personal computers."
Beacon said California exporters of aircraft and aerospace equipment, pharmaceutical products and fruits and nuts fared much better.
On the import side, California took in $376.3 billion in goods last year, up 7 percent from $351.36 billion in 2011.
Some goods entering California go to other states, so exports are considered a more accurate measure of the state's trade health.
Nationally, the U.S. trade deficit plunged nearly 21 percent to $38.6 billion from November to December. That's the smallest deficit in almost three years, a development the Commerce Department pinned 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 reached the highest level 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.