4th Quarter 2009

(Tennessee International Trade Report)

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The state's third-largest export sector, the computer industry, also saw its shipments increase, albeit at a more modest rate. Its quarterly exports stood at $885 million, about a fifth of which were laptop computers. There was quite a bit of churn, though, as it took some big gains in Canada, Colombia, Germany, Luxembourg, and Singapore to overcome sizable losses in Brazil, Mexico, and the U.K. Computer industry firms saw their sales to seven different countries rise or fall more than $10 million for the quarter.

Tennessee's medical exports were up about 3%. The state shipped $483 million of medical instruments and another $137 million of orthopedics and artificial body parts. Shipments of medical instruments to Luxembourg increased from basically zero to $126 million, making that small country the state's best export market. (But there's much less here than meets the eye; most of these exports were products that had been shipped to other European countries, especially Belgium, in previous years.) Medical products are one of the major components of so-called "miscellaneous manufactured goods." Since the state's overall numbers were down in this sector, we know there was a problem somewhere else! That problem was in the area of toys and games. These products largely go to Canada, and their sales fell by more than $40 million this past quarter.

Among the state's smaller export sectors, we might note several strong performers. Tennessee software exports gained 82% (to $74 million). These exports go almost entirely to Canada. Civilian aircraft shipments were up 36%, to $284 million. Singapore, Nigeria, and China were the sources of this gain. And sales of Jack Daniels were also substantially larger. Whiskey exports grew by 21%. Almost all of that growth came in European markets. The one significant state export that had a rough quarter was cotton. As volatile as always, cotton shipments dropped by more than $60 million for the quarter, a loss of nearly 40%. Almost all of this loss was in China, where cotton imports from Tennessee fell from $77 to $9 million.

All in all, then, not a bad quarter. The early returns for 2010 suggest that it's not a fluke. January exports were up 20% from a year earlier, and February's were up 36%. At this rate, 2010 state exports would grow by nearly $4 billion from a year ago. An increase of that size still seems unlikely, but after the past two years it's nice to realize it is even a possibility.

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