Business & Real Estate

State export trade stays hot, but will tariffs stall momentum?

California’s merchandise export trade wrapped up a strong first quarter in March, with Golden State businesses shipping merchandise valued at $15.96 billion to foreign countries that month.

That was up 7 percent from about $14.92 billion in March 2017, according to Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics’ analysis of U.S. trade statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser, cited the Golden State’s healthy trade numbers but cautioned that future results could be dampened by a recently commenced tariff battle between the United States and China.

“California’s export trade in March was about as normal as things go these days, betraying few of the anxieties that are likely to scramble next month’s numbers," O’Connell said. “Economic fundamentals look sound; the politics of trade, not so much.”

Beacon said in-state businesses saw year-over-year gains in all three major sectors.

California exports of manufactured goods in March totaled $10.27 billion, up 3.6 percent from $9.91 billion in March 2017. Exports of non-manufactured goods – chiefly agricultural products and raw materials – jumped 21.3 percent, to $2.11 billion from $1.74 billion. Re-exports were up by 9.5 percent, to $3.58 billion from $3.27 billion.

Beacon said merchandise exports during the first quarter of this year totaled $44.28 billion, up a robust 11 percent compared with the same period last year.

On a straight-up dollar basis, not accounting for inflation, Golden State exporters had their second-best year ever in 2017 with shipments valued at $171.93 billion, just short of the all-time record of $173.87 billion set in 2014, according to Beacon.

“The strong current growth of the global economy is an opportunity for California exporters,” said Beacon Economics’ founding partner Christopher Thornberg . “The (International Monetary Fund) has predicted the global economy will grow at 3.9 percent this year, the best since 2011 during the recovery from the Great Recession.

“This is the reason the U.S. dollar continues to depreciate despite rising interest rates. Still, the potential for a major trade conflict has many on edge and wondering what's next.”