Business & Real Estate

California export trade starts 2016 on a down note

California export trade began 2016 the same way it ended 2015 – on a downward slide.

Golden State businesses shipped merchandise valued at $11.96 billion in January, down 5.6 percent from $12.67 billion in January 2015, 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.

It was the continuation of a tepid last half of 2015, when the economies of key California trading partners were wavering and an increasing dollar made overseas purchases of U.S. goods a comparatively pricey proposition.

In calendar 2015, the value of California merchandise exports totaled $165.37 billion, down 5 percent from the all-time record of $174.13 billion amassed in 2014. Not accounting for inflation, that was the first annual decline since 2009.

From January 2015 to January this year, Beacon said state exports of manufactured goods totaled $7.83 billion, down 3 percent from $8.07 billion. Exports of non-manufactured goods – chiefly agricultural products and raw materials – fell 7.9 percent to nearly $1.3 billion from $1.39 billion; re-exports declined about 11 percent to $2.86 billion from $3.21 billion.

Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser, noted that “it’s actually a bit worse but also a bit better than it may seem.”

He explained that January 2016 numbers fell short of January 2015 numbers that were dragged down by a labor dispute at West Coast seaports. On the positive side, O’Connell said export volumes appear to remain strong, although export earnings in some cases are being pulled down by a softening in the prices California exporters have been able to obtain for their products.

For example, Beacon said almond prices have dropped markedly in recent months, but almond exports were up 35.2 percent by weight in January.

Beacon added that California fared better than others to start the year: Overall U.S. merchandise exports fell 10.7 percent in January compared with the year-ago period; exports by business rival Texas were down 11.3 percent.

On the import side, California took in $31.15 billion in January, down slightly from $31.28 billion in January 2015. Some goods entering California go to other states, so exports are considered a more accurate measure of the state’s trade health.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover