California export trade surges in August

The numbers were worth the wait.

California export trade figures for August, delayed 16 days due to the federal government shutdown, showed a significant late-summer surge.

California businesses shipped merchandise valued at $14.28 billion in August, up 8 percent from $13.22 billion in August 2012, according to an analysis of Thursday’s U.S. Commerce Department figures by Beacon Economics, a consulting firm with offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

By comparison, Beacon said overall U.S. merchandise exports rose by just 3.1 percent in August, while Texas saw a 4.2 percent gain.

California businesses shipped merchandise valued at $13.98 billion in July this year.

The August numbers were bolstered by manufactured exports, which increased about 7.4 percent to $9.35 billion from $8.71 billion in August last year. State exports of non-manufactured goods – chiefly agricultural produce and raw materials – rose 17.2 percent, from $1.51 billion to $1.77 billion year over year. Re-exports rose 5 percent, from $3 billion to $3.16 billion.

“August’s numbers were all the more impressive given evidence of a slowdown in economic growth rates abroad,” said Jock O’Connell, Beacon’s international trade adviser.

Through eight months this year, California’s export total of $109.18 billion is running slightly ahead of $108.27 billion amassed in the year-ago period.

Beacon also noted that California’s June-through-August merchandise exports to China, the state’s third-largest export destination, have expanded by nearly 25 percent compared with the same period in 2012. Despite slowing economic growth rate, China is on pace to overtake Canada to become California’s second-largest export market later this year.

Mexico remains the state’s largest export market, although shipments in the June-August period fell 9.3 percent from a year ago. Beacon attributed that shrinkage to sharp declines in exports of computer equipment – a byproduct of growing consumer preference for smartphones and tablets over personal computers.

O’Connell said the state outlook for the remainder of the year is generally upbeat: “While economic forecasts for many of California’s major export markets are being ratcheted back, this state’s exporters have shown great resourcefulness in coping with generally adverse market conditions abroad.”

On the import side, California took in $32.2 billion in August, up slightly from $32.11 billion in August last year. Some goods entering California go to other states, so exports are considered a more accurate measure of the state’s trade health.

Nationally, the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade gap grew only about 0.5 percent in August to $38.8 billion, up from $38.6 billion in July.

U.S. exports of goods and services dipped 0.1 percent to $189.2 billion in the July-to-August period. Sales of wheat, soybeans and other farm products declined, but exports of autos and other manufactured goods rose. The government said U.S. auto exports climbed to a record $13.1 billion, up 5.5 percent from the July level.

Imports were virtually unchanged at $228 billion. The Commerce Department said imports of oil and foreign-made cars declined month-to-month.