Business Monday

From Miami, Santa heads south -- sleigh a bit lighter

If you still believe in Santa Claus, then this column will not be a particularly big stretch. If you’re the kind who is a little more skeptical, work with me.

This will be an unofficial, unscientific, somewhat selective reading of the Latin American economy parsed from what ol’ Saint Nick could be delivering this year, via South Florida’s airports and seaports. Like I say, if you believe in Santa Claus, you will be fine.

Here’s the methodology:

I scoured the list of the roughly 1,200 exports departing from South Florida this year, settling on the top 10 that might find themselves wrapped and under a tree — or otherwise presented as a gift, depending on customs.

Then I looked at how each of them has fared through the first 10 months of this year, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data available, when compared to the same 10 months of 2013, and how South Florida compares with other “North Poles.”

Let’s start with chocolate. Not a particularly large export from South Florida, and our exports only account for 7.01 percent of the U.S. total but an easy way to get your appetite up for trade data.

U.S. exports are up 6.73 percent to $1.35billion this year, while South Florida’s exports are up an even strong 17.12 percent to $94.59million, a big enough total for a No.6 ranking among the nation’s nearly four dozen Customs districts. Biggest South Florida market? Panama, with 27.09 percent of the total. Exports to Honduras have doubled.

Next in the bag? Something for the kids (including young men who still think they’re kids): video consoles. Here, Miami leads the nation. Bad news is that it’s not a particularly good year, with U.S. exports to the world down 5.48 percent to $2.33 billion and South Florida exports down even more, 16.89 percent to $403.48 million. Good news is that this is another example of the rising middle class in Latin America. Miami first led the nation for these exports in 2011, and has led ever since. Prior to that, Laredo, serving Mexico, and Detroit, serving Canada, were the dominant exporters.

South Florida has accounted for 17.34 percent of all U.S. exports this year, the lowest total in four years but nation-leading nonetheless. About 30 percent are shipped to Paraguay, an often “efficient” way to get products into neighboring Brazil, which can have difficult and expensive import processes. Miami’s exports to the top eight nations, seven in South America and one in Central America, are all down this year.

How about for the mujeres, or women, of Latin America? Makeup. Perfumes. Jewelry.

In the makeup and skin care category, U.S. exports are up 6.58 percent but South Florida’s are down 1.66 percent to $218.76 million. We rank as the nation’s fifth most important exporter though Europe-facing New York City and Asia-facing Los Angeles dominate this category, followed by Buffalo and Detroit, which send their shipments largely to Canada.

Perhaps fragrance is more alluring than appearance, since South Florida exports are up 4.26 percent, almost 10 times the rate for the nation as a whole, which is registering a slight, 0.44 percent increase this year. South Florida ranks second only to New York City, and the two account for about two-thirds of the U.S. total. Biggest increases are to Paraguay, the second-biggest market behind Panama, and, interestingly enough, the Netherlands, the fourth-largest.

Jewelry exports are dominated by the New York City Customs district, which is accounting for 76.01 percent of the U.S. total this year. Nevertheless, South Florida ranks No. 5, with exports up 8.08 percent to $282.50 million, compared with an 11.40 percent increase for the nation. Top South Florida market? The Dominican Republic, which has received $99.98 million in jewelry this year, 35.39 percent of the total. Through the first 10 months of 2009, the total was $151.31 million.

Watches? Could be for a woman, man or even child. South Florida leads the nation, and exports are up sharply, 38.65 percent, to $182.91 million through October, while U.S. exports are up a more measured 16.49 percent. The No. 1 market at this time last year was Switzerland but maybe the Swiss figured out they already have pretty good time pieces, because those exports are off sharply, 32.34 percent (to be precise). The new No. 1 is Panama, to which exports have doubled. Exports to new No. 2 Argentina have more than tripled and to new No. 3 Venezuela, which many would suggest is running on borrowed time, have seen a 61.92 percent increase.

Finally, let’s look at presents often popular with the hombres, or men (and used equally by women, of course): computers, printers, monitors and TVs, and cell phones.

South Florida leads the nation in the export of cell phones, computers and printers, and ranks No. 5 for TV and monitor exports.

With monitors, South Florida exports are up 7.79 percent to $353.44 million. South Florida is accounting for 9.74 percent of all exports, its highest percentage since October of 2009. The leading exporters are Detroit followed by Laredo, El Paso and San Diego, border crossings all.

For printers, South Florida topped $1 billion through the first 10 months of the year for the fifth consecutive year, but shipments are down 0.84 percent while U.S. exports are up 2.19 percent. Exports to No. 4 Peru, No. 6 Argentina and No. 7 Venezuela are off sharply while those to No. 1 Brazil are up from $119.11 million to $144.74 million.

South Florida exports of computers are off 8.35 percent to $3.16 billion, while the U.S. total is up 1.59 percent to $22.10 billion, leaving the Miami Customs district with 14.30 percent of the total. Exports to No. 1 Brazil, No. 4 Chile, No. 5 Peru and No. 7 Argentina are off the most.

Last but certainly not least is the ubiquitous cell phone. Sorry to report but there’s more bad news here. U.S. exports are up 8.53 percent to $27.50 billion but South Florida shipments are off 7.64 percent to a nation-leading $4.27 billion. In a long list of red ink, the steepest decline is being registered by Venezuela. In 2009, Venezuela was the No. 1 export market for South Florida. Through the first 10 months of 2011, the total peaked at $596.77 million. So far in 2014, the total is a mere $124.225 million, and it ranks as South Florida’s 10th most important market.

All in all, Santa’s South Florida, southbound sleigh is a bit less full than last year, largely because of declines in the more valuable exports — computers and cell phones — but not all is lost, since watches, perfumes and chocolates are all performing quite well.

Ken Roberts is the founder and president of WorldCity, a Coral Gables-based company that pays attention to the impact of globalization on local communities. More import-export trade data is available at He can be reached at

‘Gift’ exports departing South Florida


October 2014 YTD

1-year change

1-year change

10-year change

10-year change

Change in rank


Total, all Miami exports

$ 54,332,328,133







Cellular, landline phones, parts

$ 4,266,758,305








$ 3,161,460,646







Printers, all types, parts

$ 1,081,094,553








$ 480,512,047







Video games, other games

$ 403,476,101







TVs, computer monitors

$ 353,443,443







Jewelry, parts

$ 282,504,355







Make-up and skin-care products

$ 218,757,886







Wrist and pocket watches, not precious metals

$ 182,906,738







Chocolate and other food products containing cocoa

$ 94,593,860





Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data