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Port of Los Angeles sets record for exports?

More U.S. goods than ever are shipped to foreign destinations, helped by a weak dollar and a strengthening manufacturing sector.

December 15, 2011|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times
  • The Port of Los Angeles shipped 1.9 million containers to foreign shores in the 11-month period ended Nov. 30, surpassing its annual record of 1.8 million boxes, set in 2010. Above, a crane operator loads containers onto an Orient Overseas Container Line ship with a giant 200-foot ship-to-shore gantry crane.
The Port of Los Angeles shipped 1.9 million containers to foreign shores… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

A rising tide of exports has been flowing through the nation's busiest seaport complex this year, helped by a weak dollar and a strengthening U.S. manufacturing sector.

In November, more U.S. goods than ever before moved out of the Port of Los Angeles to foreign destinations, with 195,878 outbound cargo containers, up 15% from the same month last year.

For the 11-month period ended Nov. 30, the port sent 1.9 million containers to foreign shores, surpassing its annual record of 1.8 million boxes, set in 2010.

Goods moving through the port for sale in Asia and other world markets included manufactured items such as integrated circuits and micro assemblies, agricultural goods, raw materials and discretionary consumer items such as California wines.

A weak U.S. dollar made these goods more affordable, but the tepid domestic economy also has forced Americans to find new income through foreign markets.

"It has been a robust year for exports," said Jock O'Connell, an international trade expert with Beacon Economics. "On an inflation-adjusted basis, this may, for example, turn out to be the best year ever for California exports."

Traditionally, imports have been the dominant news at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which rank first and second, respectively, in the nation in the number of cargo containers handled.

The neighboring ports move more than 40% of the nation's Asian imports. But the big story this year has been the growth in foreign markets for goods through the Los Angeles Customs District and California as a whole.

"Finished goods are also part of the rising export picture, and that is really good news for the California and U.S. economies," said John Husing, an economist who concentrates on international trade and its effect on the Inland Empire.

Exports also have been strong at other U.S. ports. And although U.S. export volume is expected to increase by nearly 7% this year, some experts project that the growth rate could be much slower next year.

In California, exports this year include $5.26 billion in electronics such as integrated circuits and micro assemblies; $5.2 billion in "electrical apparatus for line telephony," including mobile phone components; $2.54 billion in semiconductor devices; and $2.39 billion in industrial machinery, including computers, O'Connell said.

Locally, the surge of exports has been seen through the entire Los Angeles Customs District, which includes both ports and air freight moving through Los Angeles International and Ontario airports, said Ferdinando Guerra, an economist specializing in international trade for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

"All of the top 10 export categories for the Los Angeles Customs District are up, with the exception of aircraft and aircraft parts," Guerra said. Part of the surge has been growth in new foreign markets, and some old ones.

Guerra said that Australia rose to the No. 4 spot in terms of exports from the Los Angeles Customs District, moving ahead of Taiwan. India's burgeoning middle class made it the fastest-growing foreign market for locally exported goods. The $2.6 billion in sales of goods to India through October was enough to put it in the top 10 among foreign markets for the L.A. Customs District for the first time, Guerra said.

Indonesia. Malaysia and Vietnam also showed a growing appetite for goods shipped through the Los Angeles Customs District.

One of those benefiting is Los Angeles entrepreneur Alvin Lin, 42, vice president, chief sales officer and board member for CA88 Wine Inc. of downtown Los Angeles.

Lin's company is so named to denote that his wines come from California, and they also use the number 88, which is considered a sign of good luck in China, which is his main export market.

In just two years, Lin's business has exploded. In 2010, Lin said CA88 shipped a total of seven 20-foot-long cargo containers, or about 12,600 bottles, for sale in China. Starting in January, Lin said his business, which has about 15 employees, will be shipping four 20-foot containers of wine every month.

"We're selling to night entertainment locations, hotels, pubs, specialty stores. California wines are now considered among the best in the world in China, and the depreciation of the dollar has been a great incentive to buy them," Lin said.

Imports also increased in November at the Port of Los Angeles, up 6.2% to 354,313 containers. Overall, including empties, the L.A. port's business grew 4% to 694,109 containers in November. Through 11 months, 7.3 million containers have moved through the port, an increase of nearly 1% from 2010.

At Long Beach, which lost a terminal operator to Los Angeles a year ago, preliminary numbers for November showed a decline in imports of 15.6% and a decline in exports of 22%.

Combined, the two ports have handled 3.2 million export containers through the first 11 months of this year and are on pace to top the record set last year of 4.4 million export containers.

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