Business & Real Estate

California export trade’s winning streak snapped in 2015


The value of California merchandise exports fell 5 percent in 2015, the first annual decline since 2009.

Golden State businesses shipped merchandise valued at $165.37 billion last year, down from an all-time record of $174.13 billion in 2014, according to Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Beacon on Friday broke down California’s export totals from U.S. Commerce Department figures.

Analysts were not surprised by the decline. Economic growth overseas, particularly in China, has slowed, and a rising dollar has made U.S. products more expensive.

Given this set of circumstances, California exports held up comparatively well, they said.

“We continue to fare better than most of the nation’s other top five exporting states. Only Washington state’s numbers were less discouraging,” said Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser.

O’Connell noted that exports nationwide were off 7.1 percent year-over-year, and California’s business rival Texas saw a 13.1 percent decline in 2015.

Beacon said California’s exports sagged in all three major sectors last year. Shipments of manufactured goods totaled $106.5 billion, down 5.3 percent from $112.5 billion in 2014. Exports of non-manufactured goods – chiefly agricultural produce and raw materials – fell nearly 12 percent to $19.99 billion from $22.69 billion; re-exports inched lower by 0.15 percent to $38.88 billion from $38.94 billion.

Exports in the first half of 2015 were relatively strong, but they fell off in the second half of the year as the economies of key California trading partners faltered.

December was a prime example of the tepid second half: Beacon said California shipped merchandise valued at $12.83 billion in December, down 12.9 percent from the $14.73 billion in December 2014.

In that period, exports of manufactured goods fell 12.7 percent, from $9.54 billion to $8.33 billion. Exports of non-manufactured goods tumbled 17.7 percent, from $1.81 billion to $1.49. Re-exports fell nearly 11 percent, from almost $3.4 billion to $3.01 billion.

Beacon attributed a portion of the fall-off in California’s export trade to a decline in commodity prices, particularly almonds, California’s leading agricultural export.

Beacon said almond prices have slipped more than 30 percent in recent months, and the volume of almond exports fell 7.5 percent year-over-year in December.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover