California exports jump to pre-recession levels

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SACRAMENTO — California’s exports are booming, and companies are shipping goods at levels not reached since before the Great Recession six years ago.

In November alone, Golden State businesses shipped merchandise worth $15.2 billion, a 14% jump over the same month in 2012, new government statistics show. That’s more than twice the rate chalked up for U.S. exports nationally, up 5.9% year over year for November.

Mexico was California’s biggest single export market at $6.25 billion in September, October and November, followed by Canada at $5.21 billion, China at $4.08 billion, Japan at $3.34 billion and Hong Kong at $2.32 billion.


“It’s certainly a turnaround since earlier this year when things were not going so well,” said Jock O’Connell, a trade specialist for Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles consulting firm. “But since the summer, things have picked up dramatically, and we’ve seen some unusually high export growth.”

In a new report, Beacon analyzed the California export statistics from the U.S. Commerce Department.

Statewide, manufactured goods rose 16.8% to $9.63 billion to lead the November numbers, while non-manufactured goods, primarily agricultural products and raw materials, were up 25% to $2.5 billion, compared with November 2012.

Forty-five percent of the goods, measured by value, were shipped by air, while 32% went by ship and 23% traveled overland.

Manufacturing exports for the first 11 months of last year totaled $153.5 billion, well ahead of the 12-month total for 2012 of $148.3 billion. Exports for 2013, after being adjusted for inflation, are on track to be the highest since before the dot-com bubble burst at the turn of the century, Beacon said.

Strong manufacturing shipments, particularly in computer and electronic goods, prove that California remains an industrial powerhouse, albeit a high-tech one, O’Connell said.


“We’re very good at making fewer, more expensive things with less people,” he said.

A rise in manufacturing exports is helping to bring down the state’s 8.5% unemployment rate by creating jobs at production plants, logistics and transportation centers and major seaports, said Irena Asmundson, chief economist at the California Finance Department.

Agricultural exports, particularly to China, are another bright spot, although they could be threatened by California’s severe drought, she said. The North American Free Trade Agreement — a trading bloc that includes the United States, Canada and Mexico — continues to be important, she said.

“We have much stronger ties to Asia than the rest of the United States, and we also have big trade ties with NAFTA,” Asmundson said.

Although California trade with China and Japan could slow slightly next year, the overall outlook for exports remains upbeat for 2014, said Esmael Adibi, director of the A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman University in Orange.

Although the Chinese economic juggernaut has slowed a bit, rising demand from developing Southeast Asian countries and the recovering European Union nations has taken up some of the slack, he said.

In California, “our exports are going to increase by about 7% or 8% over what happened before,” Adibi said. “Among our 10 largest trading partners, all are doing better and are expected to do much better.”


Twitter: @marclifsher