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Ninth District manufactured exports slip in 2015

July 26, 2016


Rob Grunewald Economist, Community Development and Engagement (former)
Ashwini Sankar Research Analyst
Ninth District manufactured exports slip in 2015

Ninth District manufactured exports tumbled 4.7 percent to $44.4 billion last year, likely due to a strong U.S. dollar and lower demand for goods from major trading partners. Among district states, the value of exports ranged from a 14.5 percent decrease in North Dakota to an almost 2 percent increase in Montana, the only district state that posted gains. Meanwhile, U.S. manufactured exports dropped about 6 percent.

The U.S. dollar strengthened relative to the currencies of major trading partners during 2015, making district exports relatively more expensive in other countries. In addition, economic growth remained sluggish in Canada, Europe and other export destinations.

Machinery is the district’s largest export industry, accounting for over 20 percent of foreign sales. District exports in this industry—comprising equipment used in agriculture, construction, power transmission and other economic sectors—fell 8.1 percent in 2015 (Chart 1).


But machinery exports from the district varied considerably by destination. While machinery sales to Canada fell 18 percent, exports to Mexico of that product category increased 34 percent.

The largest component of machinery exports, agriculture and construction, has been on a downward slope—from $5.1 billion in 2012 to $2.8 billion last year. Over that period, prices of agricultural commodities dropped, along with global demand for farm tractors and other implements.

Wisconsin ranks fourth among U.S. states in exports of agricultural and construction machinery, while North Dakota ranks 11th; both states saw declines of over 20 percent.

The district’s second-largest export industry, computer and electronic products, grew less than 1 percent in 2015, while transportation, the third-largest, fell almost 7 percent—primarily due to a drop in motor vehicle exports. Total district exports of motor vehicles decreased 22 percent, while sales to Canada fell by almost one-third

Chemicals, the district’s fifth-largest export industry, provided a bright spot in an otherwise muted export picture; exports grew 3.7 percent in 2015. While exports of machinery to Europe dropped sharply, chemical exports to the Continent increased almost 18 percent.

Weak demand in most countries

Manufactured exports from the region to most global destinations either declined or increased only slightly (Chart 2).


Exports from the region to Canada, the district’s largest export destination, dropped 12.4 percent. Every district state saw declines in northbound sales, ranging from a 25 percent drop in South Dakota to a 7 percent decrease in Montana. Further exchange rate gains by the U.S. dollar against the Canadian loonie—in 2015, the U.S. dollar rose 16 percent to an average of $1.28 Canadian dollars—and minimal economic growth strained exports to Canada.

Exports to the district’s second-largest destination for manufactured exports, Europe, decreased 2 percent in 2015. Exports to Europe fell in all district states, except Montana, which saw a 27 percent increase. The U.S. dollar strengthened against the euro during 2015, rising 20 percent on currency exchanges. And while European economic growth picked up modestly last year, GDP in the region increased only 1.6 percent.

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District manufacturers saw anemic sales growth of only 1 percent in the four Asian newly industrialized economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, the district’s fourth-largest manufactured export destination. Exports were similarly weak to China, the fifth-largest destination. Ten years ago, China’s economic output was surging at a 13 percent annual pace; while GDP in China is still growing faster than in many other industrialized countries, it continued to slow in 2015, rising 7 percent.

Mexico bucked the overall lackluster trend in district manufactured exports, as it did in 2014. Mexico, the district’s third-largest export destination, posted the greatest export gains last year. District exports across the U.S. southern border grew almost 10 percent despite a 19 percent rise in the U.S. dollar relative to the Mexican peso.

Exports to Mexico from South Dakota and Minnesota increased the most—23 percent and 16 percent, respectively—while sales to Mexico decreased 13 percent in North Dakota and 30 percent in Montana.

Manufacturing sector slows

As district exports slid lower, manufacturing as a whole showed signs of weakness. According to Creighton University’s monthly survey of supply managers, manufacturing activity slackened during 2015 in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The survey indicated that manufacturing activity was expanding at the beginning of the year, but pointed to contraction in all three states by year’s end.

In addition, manufacturing employment in the district either grew weakly or decreased over the course of the year (Chart 3). The exception was Montana, where employment increased 1.6 percent. Among district states, manufactured exports vary as a share of state manufacturing GDP, ranging from about one-third in Montana and South Dakota to 60 percent in North Dakota.

Five largest manufactured export destinations
  Total Exports 2015 ($ millions) Annual Percent Change 2014-2015
Europe 4,253.0 -2.5
Canada 4,096.0 -16.6
Mexico 2,194.5 16.0
Asian NIEs* 2,048.4 0.7
China 1,685.6 2.1
Total 18,883.1 -4.5
Canada 432.0 -7.2
Europe 172.8 27.4
Asian NIEs* 136.7 -10.7
China 106.4 35.8
Japan 51.6 2.2
Total 1,046.6 1.8
North Dakota
Canada 1,254.4 -20.4
Europe 179.1 -1.8
Mexico 141.6 -12.7
Pacific Islands 135.9 55.2
South America 41.9 -8.1
Total 1,921.3 -14.5
South Dakota
Canada 502.8 -24.7
Mexico 371.7 22.5
Europe 106.7 -10.7
Middle East 102.6 28.8
Pacific Islands 52.2 2.3
Total 1,311.5 -10.7
Canada 6,826.6 -7.2
Europe 3,827.9 -2.1
Mexico 2,813.6 6.2
China 1,454.0 -1.9
South America 1,185.5 -17.1
Total 21,195.4 -3.7
*Asian NIEs (newly industrialized economies) include Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
Five largest manufactured export industries
  Total Exports 2015 ($ millions) Annual Percent Change 2014-2015
Computer and electronic products 3,530.2 -6.9
Machinery, except electrical 3,278.9 3.7
Transportation equipment 2,255.2 -12.5
Miscellaneous manufactured commodities 2,204.5 4.2
Food and kindred products 1,561.2 -11.7
Total 18,883.1 -4.5
Chemicals 325.7 4.3
Machinery, except electrical 153.8 22.9
Beverages and tobacco products 111.1 97.1
Nonmetallic mineral products 85.3 0.4
Transportation equipment 59.4 -10.0
Total 1,046.6 1.8
North Dakota
Machinery, except electrical 780.9 -18.6
Chemicals 257.2 -14.7
Petroleum and coal products 237.8 -21.3
Food and kindred products 225.3 14.2
Transportation equipment 113.8 -25.4
Total 1,921.3 -14.5
South Dakota
Food and kindred products 413.3 -24.9
Machinery, except electrical 315.1 -4.5
Transportation equipment 162.1 -3.2
Computer and electronic products 115.0 -17.3
Beverages and tobacco products 95.9 48.8
Total 1,311.5 -10.7
Machinery, except electrical 4,667.6 -14.0
Computer and electronic products 3,247.5 11.8
Transportation equipment 2,176.3 1.0
Chemicals 2,127.8 5.8
Food and kindred products 1,912.8 -11.6
Total 21,195.4 -3.7