1st Quarter 2016

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Tennessee exporters continue to produce solid numbers in a very challenging global environment.


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Sectorally, the strongest industries were medical instruments (closing in on accounting for 10% of the value of all Tennessee exports), automobiles, cellular phone equipment, and those electric storage batteries and parts. As noted, the medical sector's largest gains were in Europe, though China and Singapore also kicked in. Most of the increased auto exports were to the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia. The gains in cellular phones and equipment were posted in Mexico and Hong Kong.

A number of industries, though, had a tougher quarter. Cotton did especially poorly, losing nearly $72 million in exports. Losses were concentrated in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Iron and steel products, which mostly go into automobiles but include a wide range of items from screws and bolts on up, lost about $45 million, almost one-quarter of its exports. Plastics and computer industry shipments both fell to about $435 million, a $30 million drop for each. Other goods that suffered a difficult quarter included coloring matter and lawn mowers. In both latter cases, the losses were widely distributed globally.

In sum, it really was a good news/bad news quarter. While it is difficult to get excited about a small export gain, Tennessee was still able to turn in positive numbers when so many other states could not. The stop in the fall of exports to Canada, which had been the most serious issue for the state over the past several quarters, also must count as good news.

Until solid growth returns to the emerging market regions, it's probably too much to expect greatly improved export numbers over the next several quarters. That said, the state's ability to forge ahead in China and Europe while at least holding its own in the NAFTA market give some promise that Tennessee exporters can continue to produce solid numbers in what is now a very challenging global environment.