Business & Real Estate

California export trade gets off to strong start in 2018

Coming off a strong 2017, California’s merchandise export trade maintained momentum rolling into 2018.

Golden State businesses shipped merchandise valued at $13.7 billion in January, up from 3.2 percent $13.27 billion at the start of 2017, according to Beacon Economics’ analysis of U.S. trade statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The year-over-year gain came even as state exports of manufactured goods slipped 2.4 percent to $8.43 billion, compared with $8.64 billion a year earlier.

However, exports of non-manufactured goods – chiefly agricultural products and raw materials rose 8.2 percent to $1.72 billion from $1.59 billion. Re-exports, meanwhile, surged almost 17 percent, from $3.04 billion last year to $3.55 billion.

“Januarys are historically cursed by hangovers in more ways than one,” said Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser. “Trade volumes tend to wilt between December’s holidays and the Asian New Year.

“Still, a dollar that was 7.7 percent weaker than at the start of 2017 coupled with solid demand for California specialty crops helped buoy January’s export trade.”

Almonds, the Golden State’s No. 1 ag export, continued to do particularly well, surging more than 20 percent from January 2017.

California exports were in demand in 2017, with the value of all shipments last year totaling $171.93 billion, the second-best showing ever, falling just short of the all-time record of $173.87 billion set in 2014. Beacon noted that the comparison was on a straight-up dollar basis, not accounting for inflation.

Amid the strong start this year, trade experts continued to express concerns about the Trump administration’s support of tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Economist Robert Kleinhenz, Beacon’s executive director of research, said such measures “have a chilling effect at a time when foreign trade has the greatest upside potential in years as a result of strength in both the U.S. economy and the economies of its trading partners.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said California was the state-of-destination for 18.3 percent of all U.S. merchandise imports in January, with a total value of $37.3 billion, nearly 7 percent higher than the $34.89 billion received in January 2017.

Some goods entering California go to other states, so exports are considered a more accurate measure of the state’s trade health than imports.