Fourth-quarter exports fell by nearly $200 million, a drop of 2.45% from 2011.
by Steven G. Livingston | 1 | 2 | 3
Last year was not a banner year for Tennessee exports. Though foreign sales grew by over a billion dollars more than in 2011, this was a significantly smaller gain than over the past several years, and the state's rate of export growth lagged that of the nation. The primary reason for this relatively weak performance was a poor fourth quarter. Tennessee fourth-quarter exports fell by nearly $200 million, a drop of 2.45% from 2011, while national exports continued to grow, albeit at a modest 2.81%. Tennessee ranked 36th in state export performance. Among the southeast states, only Mississippi had as difficult a quarter.
Though the evidence of a global slowdown was everywhere, the decline in state exports started close to home. Shipments to Canada fell by more than $200 million for the quarter, with December being particularly slow. With fourth-quarter exports valued at $2.076 billion, Canada remains far and away the state's largest market. Tennessee exporters simply were unable to recoup this loss in other markets. Though automotive shipments held up well, more specialized vehicles, such as dumpers, snowplows, or shovel loaders, had a terrible quarter, losing more than half of their Canadian sales from a year earlier. The video game console sector lost most of its multi-million dollar market. Computers experienced large losses. Laptop shipments dropped nearly $50 million (to $94 million), while desktops declined by about $20 million. Amidst these declines were some strong performances, especially a large increase in DVD sales, but essentially it was the weak performance in Canada that accounted for Tennessee's slippage compared to other American states. Though exports to our other NAFTA partner, Mexico, grew a solid 5% (to $1.093 billion), this was not nearly enough to make up for the Canadian shortfall. The Mexican gains were primarily due to civilian aircraft sales.
The global trend of slowing Tennessee exports was seen across Africa (down 28%), the Middle East (declining 18%), the Caribbean (off 7%), Australia (down 6%), China and Hong Kong (8% lower), and the U.K. (off 7%). Under the circumstances, Latin America and the European Union might be regarded as among the state's "stronger" markets, since the decline in each was more modest. Latin American exports dropped $4 million to $731 million for the quarter. This hides quite a bit of churn, with the Chilean and Ecuadorian markets growing strongly, while Venezuela and Colombia suffered sizable reverses. Brazil, which accounts for more than a quarter of Tennessee's shipments to Latin America, was flat. The E.U. was also down slightly, with Tennessee shipping $15 million less to its member nations than in 2011 (a decline of less than 2%). Oddly, Italy was the strongest market in Europe. France was the weakest, excluding the dire markets of the bail-out nations of Ireland, Greece, and Portugal.