California merchandise export trade, arguably the shining star of economic recovery in the Golden State, closed out 2013 with a record-setting bang.
In-state businesses shipped merchandise valued at an all-time high of $168.13 billion last year, according to an analysis of Thursday’s U.S. Commerce Department trade figures by Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with Bay Area and Los Angeles offices.
That easily surpassed, by 4 percent, the $161.7 billion recorded in 2012. On a straight-up dollar basis, the 2012 total exceeded the 2011 all-time record of $159.12 billion by about 1.6 percent. Yet Beacon officials last year noted that, adjusted for inflation, the 2012 total represented a year-over-year decline of 0.4 percent.
That was not the case this time around.
“Even after adjusting for inflation, that (2013 total) tops any pre-recession year,” said Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser. O’Connell added that “2013 was a story of a second-half rally. In the first six months of the year, exports were falling behind the preceding year’s numbers.”
For the month of December, exports totaled $14.6 billion, a 9.3 percent increase over $13.36 billion in December 2012.
The December gains were led by a solid jump in manufactured exports – $9.58 billion, up more than 10 percent from $8.66 billion in December 2012. For all of 2013, exports of manufactured goods totaled $109.24 billion, up 4.6 percent from $104.43 billion in 2012.
“California has even started to add back manufacturing jobs,” said Jordan Levine, Beacon’s director of economic research. “Although other parts of the nation saw manufacturing jobs bounce back sooner, California created nearly 1,000 new manufacturing positions in 2013 after nearly two decades of steady declines.”
O’Connell characterized California’s top manufactured exports as “stuff that goes into stuff. ... Aircraft parts were in great demand, and the ingredients in cellphones. Computer components have been recovering after the hit the PC desktop market took (in 2012 and early 2013). California also exports a lot of high-tech equipment not generally purchased by the average consumer, such as medical diagnostic gear, scientific measuring instruments and other electronic devices.
In the October-to-December period, Beacon said, computer and electronics products were by far the largest category of California exports, accounting for $11.33 billion in shipments over that time. That was up 4.5 percent over 2012.
In the last quarter of 2013, Beacon said shipments to China surged nearly 30 percent year-over-year to $4.54 billion.
On Thursday, Clement Leung, Hong Kong’s new commissioner for economic and trade affairs with the United States, was in Sacramento speaking to a group of public officials and business leaders. Hong Kong’s trade numbers are tallied separately from China’s, but Leung said Hong Kong is an increasingly important trading partner with California.
“I think that we have strong relationship with California,” he said, “and our relations can only grow stronger.”
Leung said Hong Kong imports California-produced electronics, machinery and agricultural products.
Through 11 months last year, Leung said California accounted for nearly a fifth of about $40 billion Hong Kong imported from the United States. He said Hong Kong also is acting as a pathway for Chinese investment in the United States. Leung said Hong Kong also is eager to boost trade in American wines, a segment California dominates.
Beacon, noting that California now accounts for 11 percent of all U.S. merchandise exports, said its outlook for early 2014 is optimistic.
On the import side, California took in $31.94 billion in December and $380.91 billion for all of 2013, up 3.5 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, over year-ago totals. 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 increased to $38.7 billion in December – it was $34.3 billion in November – but the deficit dropped 11.8 percent to $471.5 billion for all of 2013, the lowest level since the recession year of 2009.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said U.S. exports of goods and services in 2013 set a new record for a fourth straight year, reaching $2.3 trillion, up nearly $700 billion since 2009. Merchandise exports to the 20 economies that have trade agreements with the United States reached a record $732 billion last year. The government said solid export numbers were put up by the automotive, industrial supplies, consumer goods, capital goods and petroleum industries.
U.S. exports of goods and services in December slipped 1.8 percent from November to $191.3 billion. Imports rose 0.3 percent month-to-month to $230 billion.
Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.