This is one of those rare instances where you can tell a good-news story with bad numbers.
Before we get ahead of ourselves:
Los Angeles International Airport will clearly have a record year for international trade in 2021, as the above graphic would suggest, despite underperforming the national average in its gain over 2020.
That’s the case because, rather than get battered by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, as was the case at most of the nation’s 450-plus airports, seaports and border crossings, LAX actually prospered.
This is the ninth in a series of columns I am writing focused on the nation’s top 10 “ports” — airports, seaports and border crossings — and how they are faring compared not only to last year, in the midst of the pandemic, but previous, more normal years.
These columns are looking at top trade partners, top exports and top imports for each — and some of the factors influencing the results.
In addition to LAX, I am analyzing data for the top-ranked Port of Los Angeles, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Port Laredo in Texas, New York’s JFK International, the Port of Newark, the Port of Houston, Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, and, up next, the Port of Savannah.
MORE FOR YOU
These top 10 matter. They account for about 45% of all U.S. trade, which should top $4 trillion for the third time in the last four years.
LAX, which ranks ninth, is a part of that growing trade, even though its total exports and imports are “only” up 18.58% when compared to the same eight months of 2020, the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. trade is up an even more robust 22.99% through August.
Looking back to 2019, however, and LAX shines with a little more luster. Its trade is up 13.11% year to date, almost twice the national average of 6.75%.
Now, back to the beginning. This is an instance where a good-news story can just as easily be told with bad numbers.
If you are Covid-19 weary — and who isn’t? — and looking for a silver lining in a massive decrease in the value of a specific import, consider the fate of the category that includes those now-ubiquitous face masks.
At this time in 2020, “articles made from textile materials” were the third-ranked import into LAX, by the value of that trade.
Fast forward to the first eight months of this year, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau date available, and the category ranks 92nd, down from $3.58 billion to $49.22 million. That’s a decrease of 98.53%.
Then there’s gold, trade in which most commonly rises as investors grow skittish about the global economy. Most of us can agree that investors are to be forgiven for any skittishness they experienced last year.
Imports of gold are down a nearly identical 98.84% from the first eight months of 2020, from a one-year surge to $631/53 million and a No. 14 ranking to $7.33 million and a rank of 243.
So, there you have it: Good news in bad numbers.
As our need for masks at least equivocates, as investors sentiments about gold seem to have tarnished under the glare of an economy that withstood the external shock of the worst pandemic in a century, Americans spent. And that means imports. And, quite often but not always, more imports lead to more exports.
Two exports have increased more than $1 billion when compared to the same eight-month period of pre-pandemic 2019: semiconductor machinery and parts, up $1.62 billion, and scrap of precious metal (often platinum), up $1.05 billion.
Three imports have increased more than $1 billion over the pre-pandemic totals for the first eight months of 2019, with computers up $3.67 billion, computer parts up $1.76 billion and cell phones and related equipment up $1.17 billion.
Looking at LAX trade by its top five trade partners, which accounted for better than 52% of its trade through August, three performed particularly well: No. 2 Taiwan, No. 4 India and No. 5 Germany, with year-over-year increases of 44.08%, 145.40% and 52.08%, respectively.