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California exports post modest gain in January

Published: Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 - 11:00 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 - 11:19 pm

The momentum of a record-setting 2013 in California export trade did not carry over into 2014.

In-state businesses shipped merchandise valued at $12.87 billion in January, up just 2 percent from $12.61 billion in January 2013, according to an analysis of Friday’s U.S. Commerce Department figures by Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser said the year-over-year gain barely kept pace with inflation but added: “2014 started with a stumble but not a fall for California’s exporters.”

In December, California exports totaled $14.6 billion, capping off a record annual total of $168.13 billion. Analysts noted that state exports started relatively slowly in 2013, surging in the last half of the year.

Per usual, Beacon’s analysis considered a three-month period that included January. That outlook was decidedly brighter. California’s merchandise exports during the November-January period totaled $42.69 billion, up 8.3 percent over the same period a year earlier.

“We are wary about reading too much into the weak January numbers seen in many economic indicators,” said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon. “The seasonality issues at play after the holidays, combined with inclement weather both in the U.S. and other parts of the world, suggest that these numbers are more likely to be a blip than a true slowing of economic activity.”

Mexico remained California’s No. 1 export market in the November-January period, with exports up 8.3 percent from the prior year to $5.9 billion. Exports to Canada rose 16.8 percent to $4.89 billion, and shipments to China surged almost 27 percent to $4.38 billion. Overall, Beacon said, California accounted for 10.8 percent of all U.S. merchandise exports in the measured three-month period.

Beacon anticipates modest export growth over the next few months.

“While we continue to have confidence in the resourcefulness of California’s exporters, we are nonetheless cognizant of the sluggish growth being seen in merchandise trade worldwide,” O’Connell said.

On the import side, California took in $31.64 billion in January, up 3.7 percent from $30.51 billion in January last year. 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 grew 0.3 percent to $39.1 billion from December to January. The Commerce Department noted that an increase in imports of oil and other foreign goods offset gains in exports.

Exports of U.S. goods and services climbed 0.6 percent month-to-month to $192.5 billion, driven by increased sales of U.S.-made machinery, aircraft and medical equipment. Imports also rose 0.6 percent to $231.6 billion, reflecting a 9 percent jump in imports of petroleum. Imports of food and machinery also rose.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

Read more articles by Mark Glover

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