More than $1.97 billion in gold entered South Florida through the first five months of 2015. That’s not an insignificant amount. It’s also almost four times as much as any of the nation’s other Customs districts.
It is also South Florida’s most valuable import, according to WorldCity analysis of the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data. Almost all of it flew into Miami International Airport, and most of it was in the form of gold bars, or gold doré bars as they are called.
It is also nearly $1 billion less than flew into MIA just two years ago, a decline of 33.54 percent.
This is the first in a series of 10 columns about South Florida’s top imports, to be followed by columns on No. 2 refined petroleum products, No. 3 exports returned for repair, No. 4 aircraft, No. 5 cellular and landline phones, No 6 fish fillets, No. 7 repaired exports, No. 8 T-shirts, No. 9 yachts and other boats and, possibly, No. 10 fresh-cut flowers.
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Flowers are likely to have dropped out of the top 10 with the release of the June data. That’s because the flower season is concentrated around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day while the current No. 11 import, medical instruments, has no season.
This follows a series of columns about South Florida’s top 10 trade partners.
U.S. rank: While gold was South Florida’s top import, it ranked No. 29 among all U.S. imports through the first months of 2015, with a total value of $4.62 billion. It ranked behind diamonds, the No. 10-ranked U.S. import, with a value of $10.64 billion but ahead of platinum, at No. 102, with a value of $1.78 billion, and silver, currently ranked No. 106, with a value of $1.73 billion.
Black gold, as oil is called, ranks as the nation’s No. 2-ranked import this year, with a value of $54.48 billion and trailing only motor vehicles.
Oil, silver and, to a lesser extent platinum are, like gold, widely traded and highly volatile. They tend to rise and fall rapidly; as the demand slacks, the price generally plummets, doubling the impact, from an import-export point of view. Diamonds are the outlier in this group.
A wide range of geo-political and economic issues can affect the prices of these commodities, from a slowing economy in China to the Greek impasse with the European Union to a peace deal with Iran. Good news can be particularly bad for gold.
Gold’s value is down 15.56 percent from the same time period of 2014 and 29.25 percent from two years ago, when it was the nation’s No. 18-ranked import, or 11 positions higher. The value of oil imported into the United States is down an astonishing 49.22 percent this year when compared to the first five months of 2014, when it was the leading import, and 51.48 percent from two years ago.
Platinum is down 13.71 percent from 2014 but only 0.63 percent from 2013. Its rank has fallen from No. 60 in 2011 to No. 102 this year, though it skipped ahead of silver. Silver ranked No. 37 in 2011 but has fallen 49 positions since. In just two years, the value of silver imports are off 42.03 percent.
Then there are diamonds, down 2.79 percent from 2014 but up 4 percent from 2013. Diamonds have advanced one in the last year, from No. 11.
Gold, then, is following a downward trajectory not as dramatic as that of oil and silver but more dramatic than for platinum and certainly diamonds.
South Florida trade: Because gold is South Florida’s top import, the impact is palpable here. And it has been the leading import through May for the past five years. It replaced refined petroleum products, which had been No. 1 since 2005, when it, in turn, replaced aircraft.
Gold has accounted for 9.78 percent of all imports into South Florida this year, but this is the first year since 2010 it was not in double digits. The high was 13.5 percent in 2013.
Gold’s rise is a somewhat recent phenomenon, however, closely tied to the global economic crisis of 2008 and 2009. Investors often flock to gold during times of economic uncertainty. Until 2009, it had never accounted for more than 3 percent of all South Florida Imports. In 2005, it ranked No. 14 among South Florida imports.
Where it originates: Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru are the leading markets currently, and Mexico was during the height of the economic crisis.
In the past two years, imports from Colombia are down 44.16 percent — or $447.39 million. Mexico’s imports have fallen $466.46 million in the past two years. Imports from Ecuador and Bolivia, while down from the 2014 totals, are up 66.17 and 28.34 percent, respectively, from two years ago, bucking the trend.
For the first time in more than a decade, Colombia accounted for less than 30 percent of all gold imports into South Florida through the first five months of the year — 28.68 percent to be exact. The $565.79 million in gold imports is Colombia’s lowest total since May 2010.
For the first time since 2012, South Florida imports totaled less than $2 billion through May.
South Florida competition: No other Customs district has ever been responsible for more than $1 billion in imports through May. South Florida has topped $1 billion six consecutive years, including topping $2 billion in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
For the past four years, South Florida has accounted for more than 40 percent of all imports into the United States. It had not accounted for more than 30 percent until then.
Just as bad times are good for gold, it turns out they have been good for South Florida, too.
Coming next: A closer look at South Florida imports of refined petroleum products such as jet fuel and gasoline, the No. 2-ranked import.
Reach Ken Roberts, president of World City, at kroberts@worldcity, web.com.
Gold ranks atop South Florida import list
May 2015 YTD
Gasoline, other fuels
Imports of returned
exports for repair
chilled or frozen
Imports of returned
exports, after repair
T-shirts, tank tops,
knit or crocheted
Yachts and other boats
Medical instruments for
surgeons, dentists, vets
vest, knit or crocheted
Insulated wire, cable
Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data