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Growth Streak Ends: California Export Trade Stalls

June 8, 2012 - LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - California's export trade essentially stalled in April, according to an analysis by Beacon Economics of foreign trade data released this morning by the U.S. Commerce Department.

Although the state's $13.03 billion in merchandise exports during April represented a nominal 1.1% increase over last April's total of $12.88, the real or inflation-adjusted value of the state's export trade actually shrank by slightly more than 1%, ending an unbroken streak of year-over-year increases in the state’s export trade going back to November 2009.

"Although disappointing, these numbers are hardly surprising given economic conditions worldwide," said Jock O’Connell, Beacon Economics' International Trade Adviser.

California’s exports of manufactured goods in April nudged up a nominal 0.6% from $8.44 billion to $8.49 billion, while non-manufactured exports (chiefly raw materials and agricultural products) fell by 3.7% from $1.65 billion to $1.59 billion. Re-exports, meanwhile, rose by 5.5% from $2.79 billion to $2.95 billion.

"If anything is remarkable it's that the April numbers were not worse" O'Connell said. "It's hardly a secret that Europe is in grave distress, that China's slowing down, and that major economies like Brazil and India have begun going wobbly."

Compounding the challenge for the estimated 60,000 California companies that ship goods to customers around world, the crisis of the euro has driven up the value of the dollar, effectively making U.S. products more expensive for foreign buyers.

Beacon Economics' Founding Partner Christopher Thornberg said that with more uncertainty abroad, foreign capital tends to flow to the U.S., as a safe haven, thereby increasing the value of the dollar and making U.S. exports less competitive on global markets. “While this trend is not expected to be permanent, the dollar could rise more vis-a-vis the euro until their banking issues are dealt with,” said Thornberg. “This could make it somewhat difficult to maintain the pace of export growth that we've enjoyed thus far in the recovery.”

The news is not unrelentingly dismal, however.

“Probably the best news lately is that our single largest export market, Mexico, remains on a more stable economic footing," O'Connell said, noting that Mexico's central bank had just last month updated the country's economic growth outlook for 2012 to a range of 3.25% to 4.25%.

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