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California Exports Trending Down as 2008 Ends

February 11, 2009, Sacramento -- The latest U.S. trade statistics (for December 2008) were released this morning by the U.S. Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. What follows is an analysis of California's export performance based on those statistics.

Reflecting the downturn in the global economy, California's merchandise export trade in December 2008 ($10.4 billion) was 13.7% below December 2007 levels. December was also the second consecutive month in which state exports fell below the level reported for the same month in the preceding year. (November's export totals were 6.3% lower than November 2007.)

For all of 2008, however, California's export trade showed a 7.9% increase, growing to $144.8 billion from $134.2 billion in 2007.

The downward trend in state exports toward year's end was manifested at California's three largest seaports. At the Port of Oakland, the number of loaded containers outbound in December was down 16.3% from the preceding December. More pronounced declines in outbound movements of loaded containers were seen at the Ports of Los Angeles (-25.9%) and Long Beach (-34.2%). At Los Angeles International, the state's premier international aviation gateway, export tonnage was likewise down in December by 22.4% from the same month a year ago. (December cargo data from SFO are not yet available.)

California accounted for 11.1% of America's merchandise export trade in 2008, well below its peak share of 15.4% in 2000. The decline was largely due to the diminished level of manufacturing in California -- especially in the electronics sector -- and to the continuing shift to an economy dominated by the provision of services. But also contributing to the decline has been the growing use of the Internet as a mode of transport for digitized products such as computer software, music, books, films and other visual media produced here California. U.S. government systems for tracking the nation's exports were designed to monitor the physical movement of tangible goods. No similar mechanisms have been devised to measure trade in goods or services delivered to customers worldwide via Internet downloads.)

There are no state-of-origin statistics for service exports. Nor are import figures available by state-of-destination.