State export numbers were almost uniformly negative in the second quarter.
The slow global economy is finally biting into the sales of Tennessee exporters. The state's exports tumbled 7.6%, to just under $8 billion, for the second quarter of 2016. In percentage terms, this drop was a bit larger than for that of American exports overall (6.1%).
The fall-off was just about across the board. Sixteen Tennessee commodities exported more than $100 million in the second quarter of 2015 (measured at the 4-digit HS). Exactly three of those posted export gains in the second quarter of 2016. Of those, only the cell phone equipment sector could truly be said to have had a good quarter. A large increase in shipments to Hong Kong led it to a solid 20 percent increase (to $188 million). Two smaller commodities, auto transmission parts and electric storage batteries, also turned in profitable second quarter numbers.
But these few winners were really bucking the tide. Of the state's large export commodities, five suffered double-digit declines. They were led by the computer sector, which saw significant drops in both laptop and PC shipments. In fact, large losses in Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Chile cost the state one-third of last year's second-quarter computer exports.
For several recent quarters the auto industry had almost single-handedly kept the state's export numbers in positive territory. Not so last quarter. Shipments of cars were down sharply, with losses concentrated in China, the United Arab Emirates and Canada (though the gloom was not universal—SUV sales were up in Saudi Arabia). Motor vehicle parts experienced the same difficulties. Cotton, artificial filament tow, medicaments, coloring matter, and whiskey were among the other sectors that really struggled.
Many of the losses came in the same markets. Exports to China dropped by more than $100 million. In percentage terms, it was one of the two most difficult major global markets for state exporters. China accounted for the lion's share of the declines in Tennessee's automotive, cotton, and artificial filament tow shipments.