Business & Real Estate

West Coast port dispute, rising dollar put minor dent in California exports

Shipping containers are stacked high at the Port of Los Angeles in February due to a dockworkers’ labor dispute.
Shipping containers are stacked high at the Port of Los Angeles in February due to a dockworkers’ labor dispute. The Associated Press

Near-gridlock at West Coast ports and a rising dollar did not do as much damage to California’s January exports as some analysts had feared.

In-state businesses shipped merchandise valued at $12.67 billion in January, down about 1.6 percent from $12.87 billion in January 2014, 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.

Beacon noted that California’s year-over-year percentage decline was significantly less than a 3.9 percent drop in U.S. merchandise exports over the same period. Other states took big hits. Beacon said exports from Texas and New York plunged by 15.4 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

While California fared better by comparison, Beacon founding partner Christopher Thornberg called the January numbers “quite dreary,” adding that “California outperformed the U.S. but only because the national number was so weak.”

The biggest impact in California was on exports of non-manufactured goods, chiefly agricultural produce and raw materials. That included some of Sacramento and the Central Valley’s prime agricultural exports, such as almonds and rice. Those shipments fell from $1.69 billion to $1.39 billion, or nearly 18 percent, from January 2014 to January 2015.

Beacon said California exports of manufactured goods fell about 2 percent, from $8.26 billion to $8.07 billion.

A monthslong stalemate in labor contract talks between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, both based in San Francisco, clogged major ports in California throughout January and early February. A tentative contract agreement was announced Feb. 20, prompting increased shipping activity at West Coast ports.

California exporters also are dealing with the dollar’s rising value. A strong dollar makes U.S. goods more costly for buyers abroad, and some Golden State trade partners have been dealing with cooling economies.

Beacon’s Thornberg said the recently increasing value of the U.S. dollar “will continue to have a negative impact on real exports in the near future.”

Last year, California set an all-time record for exports, shipping merchandise valued at $174.13 billion, surpassing 2013’s record of $168.13 billion by about 3.6 percent.

On the import side, California took in $31.28 billion in January, down about 1 percent from $31.64 billion in January 2014. Some goods entering California go to other states, so exports are considered a more accurate measure of the state’s trade health.

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