3rd Quarter 2012

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tennessee monthly exports graph
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Tennessee International Trade Report

Tennessee saw its slowest export growth since the 2009 global financial crisis.
by Steven G. Livingston | 1 | 2 | 3

Third quarter trade statistics provide more evidence of a slowing global economy. At $7.729 billion, Tennessee exports were up just 3.5%, their slowest growth since the 2009 global financial crisis. Nevertheless, this well exceeded national performance. Total American exports gained a meager 1.2% for the quarter as 24 states actually saw their exports fall. Tennessee ranked 22nd among the American states in export performance. Many of the strongest states were those with significant exports in the energy sector.

Tennessee was carried by strong performances in several sectors. Automotive-related exports turned in another good quarter. Car ($212 million to $361 million) and truck ($31 million to $50 million) exports were robust, though auto parts were basically flat ($405 million to $407 million). A number of ancillary products, such as tires, engines, pumps, generators, and automotive instruments, also had good quarters, each with double-digit gains in foreign shipments. Since many of these products are ultimately destined for vehicles sold in the U.S., these solid numbers in general speak more to the relative health of the American economy than to the global export environment. However, the state's major non-North American auto market, the Gulf States of the Middle East, was one of the quarter's few dynamic regions. Car exports to the Gulf more than doubled, accounting for over one-third of Tennessee's motor vehicle exports for the quarter. Also in the transportation sector, aircraft-related foreign sales were strong, up almost 25% for the quarter.

Medical instrument exports performed well. The sector gained 11.8% for the quarter, to $643 million, mostly on the back of increased shipments to Japan and other East Asian countries. European purchases, too, were up 10%. Most other medical-related products, though, such as orthopedics or pharmaceuticals, did not have the same success for the quarter and were lucky to hold steady from a year ago. The computer sector joined medical instruments in the winner's circle. Its 16% export growth (to $444 million) compared favorably to that of most other industries. Substantial gains in China and Europe overcame weaker numbers in Latin America and a slowdown in the Canadian market.

Other strong industries for the quarter included artificial filament, with a $30 million gain due to increased exports to China, South Asia, and Vietnam, wood products (up $10 million), and paper products (up $19 million). Chemicals were a mixed bag. Overall the sector's exports fell 3.8%. The drop, however, was concentrated in several products, notably coloring matter and polyamides. The $79 million drop in coloring matter shipments was one of the largest of any exported product. Exports were down globally, with shipments declining to South Korea, Taiwan, the euro zone, and South America. Exports of polyamides fell 45.7%, the losses coming mostly in East and Southeast Asia. Inorganic chemicals as a whole, on the other hand, posted a decent gain for the quarter ($103 million to $117 million), and cyanides, polyesters, and cellulose-based chemicals were among those that did quite well.

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