Business Monday

Gateway City/Trend: Exports’ ‘Billion Dollar Club’ diminished yet again

Ken Roberts is president of World City, based in Coral Gables.
Ken Roberts is president of World City, based in Coral Gables.

In 2015, South Florida had seven export categories that topped $1 billion in value. Which sounds like good news. But it’s not. The total is down two from the previous year, three from 2012 and five from 2011, when there were 12.

In 2011, South Florida exports to the world totaled $69.32 billion; the next year, the total set a record that still stands: $73.19 billion.

In 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released earlier this month, South Florida exports to the world fell just shy of $58.60 billion, a 19.94 percent drop from the record year, with 10.62 percent of that decline occurring just from the 2014 total.

Here’s what’s important to understand about South Florida’s exports to the world: They largely head to the Caribbean and Central and South America. With the exception of 2011 and 2012 — the two record years for South Florida exports — that percentage has topped 80 percent for more than two decades.

Think of us as one big shopping mall for Latin America and the Caribbean. Here, they fill their baskets to the brim with, among other things, those seven members of the Billion Dollar Club: No. 1 civilian aircraft, engines and parts; No. 2 cellphones and related equipment; No. 3 computers; No. 4 medical instruments; No. 5 gold; No. 6 medicine; and No. 7 printers.

All seven of the top exports fell in value from their 2014 totals and all but one — medical instruments — are down from three years ago. In fact, of South Florida’s top 15 exports, only two increased in value over the 2014 total: No. 10 motor vehicles, up 3.95 percent, and No. 13 taps and valves, up 1.21 percent.

You know it’s a tough year when a 1.21 percent gain is the good news.

It would be a pretty good guess that Brazil and Venezuela are playing a large role in the export slide, given their beleaguered economies and political systems. Venezuela, for example, has the highest inflation in the world.

But the clue that there’s something else at play is that the percentage of trade with the region fell below 80 percent those two record years, 2011 and 2012. During those years, South Florida’s trade with Europe jumped above 15 percent, the only two years in the last two decades above that percentage. In 2015, it had fallen to 9.42 percent.

Since 2012, three exports have fallen more than $1 billion in value. Gold, largely shipped to Switzerland, has tumbled $6.20 billion. The other two, however, are more closely associated with Latin America and the Caribbean — with Brazil, in particular, key: civilian aircraft, engines and parts, down $1.42 billion, and computers, off a smidgen more, at $1.44 billion.

There is another thing that separates gold from the other two. Gold is a commodity and, to a certain extent, its decrease in value can be attributed to a decline in the price of gold. Not so for aviation-related exports or computers. Those are intrinsically tied to purchasing power.

Gold is, in fact, something of an outlier. If you look at the former members of the Billion Dollar Club — those that have dropped into the mere hundreds of millions in value — you will find the story is largely one of a diminished appetite in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That includes the previous mentioned Brazil and Venezuela, but also Colombia. South Florida exports to Brazil fell $3.34 billion in 2015 from the previous year while those from Colombia were down $997.03 million. Venezuela’s were down $854.05 million.

Here’s a breakdown of the former members of the Billion-Dollar Club: Computer chips and computer parts fells below $1 billion in 2015, motor vehicles in 2013, and cotton and cameras in 2012. Each tells its own story, a slight variation on a larger theme.

Computer chips, for example, tend to overwhelmingly ship to Brazil while computer parts go, in addition, to Venezuela, Argentina and other South American markets. Motor vehicles tend to sail to the Caribbean, cotton to Central America and, to a lesser extent, the Caribbean. Cameras and camcorders head to South America and, to a great extent, are falling victim not just to dire economic conditions in Brazil and Venezuela but also to the cellphone, which is largely doing away with the need for most people to have cameras.

You know it’s a tough year when a 1.21 percent gain is the good news.

South Florida’s declining exports have had a couple of effects, from a data perspective, but have not affected its overall ranking among the roughly four dozen Customs districts in the nation. It ranked No. 8 in 2015 and No. 8 in 2012, the record-setting year. (For overall trade, South Florida has slipped back to a more customary No. 12 ranking in recent years, from a peak of No. 10 in 2012.)

The declining exports have affected South Florida’s trade deficit, which, for most years in the last two decades has been the top in the nation, and quite often, a record-setting total for a Customs district. For the first time in at least two decades, South Florida’s trade surplus was neither first nor second in the nation but third, trailing not only Seattle but also the new No. 1, Houston.

Actually, South Florida only narrowly stayed in the No. 3 position, its $10.34 billion surplus only slightly larger than that posted by Honolulu, $9.86 billion. For South Florida, it is the lowest trade surplus since 2006.

This is the second of six columns about South Florida’s trade in 2015. Next week: South Florida imports, followed by columns about the three primary conduits for South Florida trade: Miami International Airport, PortMiami and Port Everglades. Reach Ken Roberts, president of World City, at kroberts@worldcity Twitter: @tradenumbers

Red ink abounds for South Florida exports












Total South

Florida exports








Civilian aircraft, engines, parts








Cellular, landline phones, parts
















Medical instruments for

surgeons, dentists, vets
























Printers, all types, parts








Computer chips








Computer parts








Motor vehicles for

transporting people








Motor vehicle parts








Cotton, 85% cotton








Taps, cocks and valves

for pipes, tanks








Pumps for dispensing liquids








Parts for heavy machinery







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