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The American export boom actually took off in 2007, stood up remarkably well during the 2008–09 recession, and has generally picked up momentum since. As Table 1 shows, exports of goods and services jumped 13.3% in 2007 and continued to grow almost apace in 2008, even as the global financial crisis rocked world economies. Unsurprisingly, exports fell during the global recession year of 2009, but they rebounded into 2010 and 2011, despite the disappointing pace of the global expansion. Even more recently, as China has reduced its overall growth expectations and Europe has fallen into recession, export growth so far this year has actually accelerated. Because exports amount to barely 15% of all U.S. economic output, this performance, impressive as it is, could not turn a sluggish recovery into a rapid one, but it has been fast enough at times to add considerably to the pace of growth. In late 2007, net exports accounted for more than half the economy’s overall expansion. In 2010 and early 2011, they accounted for one-third of the economy’s overall growth.
The expansion of the global economy, especially the emerging world, explains some of these gains. The 2007 export jump, especially, reflected the booms in China, India, and other emerging economies that were proceeding at the time and that consumed industrial supplies and raw materials for which the U.S. economy, among others, was in a good position to provide. Of course, the global downturn in the late 2008/early 2009 helps explain the export drop averaged in 2009, but that picture quickly changed as the emerging economies resumed their rapid growth trajectories in 2010 and in the early part of 2011.
Also explaining the American export picture are the declines in the dollar’s foreign exchange rate, which cumulatively enhanced American producers’ price competitiveness. Between 2002 and 2007, for example, the euro rose about 40% against the dollar, while the yen rose more than 15%. These favorable (for exports) currency patterns continued through much of this more recent period too, further enhancing America’s competitive position. In 2007 alone, the dollar cheapened almost 10% against the euro and then rose only slightly since, at least until much more recently. The move against the yen was even more dramatic. Between mid-2007 and late 2011, the yen rose almost 40% against the dollar. Not only did the currency moves give U.S. producers inroads into the European and Japanese markets but, more significantly, they also gave a significant edge against the European and Japanese competition in faster-growing third markets, such as China, India, and Brazil.
There can be no denying, however, that the dollar’s recent gains, if they persist, will strip away some of this competitive edge. In recent weeks, for instance, the euro and the yen have each cheapened almost 5.5% against the dollar. But because previous dollar declines had given American producers such huge pricing advantages, even recent dramatic currency moves leave much of this country’s former global pricing advantage intact. According to calculations by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), underlying measures of comparable pricing (what econometricians refer to as purchasing power parity), put today’s euro, at about $1.25, only just on a competitive par with dollar-based production. Comparable calculations for Japan show the yen still giving American producers a huge 35% pricing advantage against the Japan-based competition.
Though combined with slowing global growth, recent dollar strength will retard the future rates of export gain, but it should be clear that relative pricing advantages have hardly proceeded far enough to erase it. For one, trading arrangements are based on ongoing pricing and supply relationships built over long periods of time. Those that have developed in favor of American products during these past years of great American pricing advantages will take a long while to unwind. Given the American advantage implicit in the still pricey yen, it is doubtful that such a process has even begun or will begin for some time yet. If the euro is closer to competitive parity, it still offers no special pricing advantage that would prompt buyers to switch away from established American suppliers. On this basis, exports should continue to contribute to aggregate growth in the U.S. economy, albeit at a reduced rate, say, growing 8–10% rather than within the 14–17% range of the past three years.
Source: Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce.
*Through April annualized.
+ Calculated from December through April and expressed at an annual rate.