U.S. Export Weakness Hampers Growth

Strong dollar and global economic strains undermine foreign trade in goods and services

Hopes for an American export boom are wilting under the weight of a strong dollar and global economic strains.

U.S. exports are on track to decline this year for the first time since the financial crisis, undermining a national push to boost shipments abroad. Through July, exports of goods and services were down 3.5% compared with the same period last year. New data released Tuesday by the Commerce Department showed that exports of U.S. goods sank a seasonally adjusted 3.2% in August to their lowest level in years.
IT-USExportsReprint_Page_2
The weak trade performance is restraining overall economic growth, a sign of how troubles in China and other major economies are dinging the U.S. economy.

“Foreign demand remains the weakest part of the economy,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at consulting firm High Frequency Economics.
It didn’t seem that way in 2010, when President Barack Obama set a goal of doubling exports over five years. Some big cities took up the challenge, including Portland, Ore.

Facing a battered economy at home, Vanessa Keitges, president of Portland-based Columbia Green Technologies, lined up sales in Belgium and New Zealand. In Canada, she chased public-building projects and Wal-Marts. Within three years, one-quarter of the green-roofing company’s sales were outside the U.S.

But that proved to be a high-water mark for the company’s foreign ambitions. Ms. Keitges is now focusing on the strengthening domestic market for the company’s rooftop planters as weak growth abroad tempers demand and a strong dollar creates pricing problems.

Exports seemed a golden opportunity as Portland and the rest of the nation emerged from the 2007-09 recession. Foreign sales were a major contributor to U.S. economic growth in 2010 and 2011, outstripping past recoveries. Political leaders hoped selling goods and services abroad would offer a sustained boost to the job market at home.

But the dream of an export boom has faded.

As unemployment has declined, American consumers have reasserted their dominant role in driving economic growth. And a strong dollar and weakness overseas have helped turn international trade into a drain on overall economic growth in four of the past six quarters.

The Federal Reserve worries exports will be a persistent drag on the broader economy going forward. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer in August said it was “plausible to think that the rise in the dollar over the past year would restrain growth…through 2016 and perhaps into 2017.” If the Fed begins to raise short-term interest rates later this year, that could provide new fuel to push the dollar’s value even higher.

Exports of goods and services grew 80% from 2003 to 2008, but then expanded only 48% from 2009 to 2014, according to Census Bureau data.

A Commerce Department official described President Obama’s export-growth initiative as “catalytic and a success,” driving exports “despite strong global economic headwinds and macroeconomic factors outside our control.”

The administration is looking to spur trade growth through agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Senior officials from around the world are meeting in Atlanta, trying to complete the expansive trade deal after talks stalled earlier this year.

It isn’t just the U.S. where exports have been a disappointment in recent years. Globally, growth in trade volume is set to trail the pace of economic growth for the third year in a row, and trade growth has been averaging just half its pre-financial crisis pace. In the immediate aftermath of the recession, confronted by weakness in the domestic economy, U.S. policy makers saw opportunity in global markets.

Following Mr. Obama’s lead, the Portland metro region in 2012 set its own goal to double its exports in five years. “This is how we fight for jobs in the next economy,” then-Portland Mayor Sam Adams declared. In the past year, Portland has quietly shelved that aim. The value of Portland-area exports actually declined slightly between 2012 and 2014, according to tallies from the Commerce Department and the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

After Portland set its goal, economic conditions started to shift. The value of major currencies declined relative to the dollar, making American-made goods more expensive for foreign customers. Growth slowed in key markets such as China and Canada. At home, the U.S. economy regained its footing.

Over the past year, Portland first was caught up in a labor dispute that caused gridlock at ports along the West Coast, then it lost regular ocean-bound container service. Local officials also came to realize export growth depended overwhelmingly on chip maker Intel Corp., MMINTCMM which has extensive facilities in the Portland suburbs.

Exports of computer and electronic products helped drive a more than doubling of the metro area’s exports between 2003 and 2008, according to Brookings. But Intel has suffered from a slowdown in demand for personal computers.Measurable gains from smaller companies are likely to take years to materialize. Federal estimates show only about 5% of U.S. firms export, with nearly two-thirds of the annual value concentrated among 500 companies.

Hand-tool maker Astro Tool Corp. in the Portland suburb of Beaverton has seen many of the challenges up close. Over the past year, general manager Mike Barnes dedicated half his time to chasing foreign customers, while still overseeing day-to-day operations of the 30-employee company. He faced a steep learning curve. “We, A, didn’t know how to do it, and B, we didn’t have the money to do it,” he said. “You can’t just go to the Internet and say, ‘Where do we find foreign opportunities?’ ”

He eventually landed a small grant to hire a consultant and tapped connections for advice. The share of Astro’s business coming from overseas climbed over the past year to 25% from 15%. But he also watched at a trade show as a foreign competitor sold a cheap, knockoff version of a product similar to his.

The Portland region is trying to court foreign companies that already incorporate exports into their business model. But those companies aren’t immune to global pressures.

Two years ago, exports were nearing 70% of the sales of Shimadzu USA Manufacturing Inc., a subsidiary of the Japanese maker of instruments to test everything from wine fermentation to the urine of Olympic athletes. Now the plant in an industrial park at the far southern edge of metro Portland is getting closer to 50-50 as domestic growth outpaces sales gains abroad.

Foreign customers “can get it cheaper from Japan now than they can from the United States. We’re not as competitive as we were,” said Joe Shaddix, vice president of operations and manager of the factory, referencing the strong dollar.

At the same time, domestic demand for test instruments is developing among marijuana growers as states move to legalize the drug. The factory has expanded what it can make, becoming U.S. Food and Drug Administration registered.

Mr. Adams, the former mayor, remains a strong advocate for the goal of doubling exports—if not by 2017, then eventually. He worries the Portland economy isn’t keeping up with the quality of life that draws twenty- and thirty-somethings at an enviable rate.

“Obviously the timeline will move, but keeping that goal front and center is key,” he said.
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Write to Mark Peters at mark.peters@wsj.com and Ben Leubsdorf at ben.leubsdorf@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-export-weakness-hampers-growth-1443576283

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Post-Boehner, risk of December government shutdown and Export-Import Bank closure is high

Fluent In Foreign Business

On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner announced he will resign at the end of October.

Photo: Associated Press The Export-Import Bank building in Washington D.C.

With John Boehner stepping away from the negotiating table, the chances increase for a December government shutdown and a permanent shuttering of the Export-Import Bank.

Other question marks: Will Congress and the White House be able to agree on new federal borrowing authority and revise the way the U.S. pays for the upkeep of roads and bridges.

The immediate shutdown threat may have passed, since Mr. Boehner, a core group of House Republicans, House Democrats and a Senate majority appear to be in agreement on a stopgap bill to carry the government from Oct. 1 through Dec. 11.

Mr. Boehner told reporters he plans to get as much done as he can before he leaves. President Barack Obama said he…

View original post 540 more words

Post-Boehner, risk of December government shutdown and Export-Import Bank closure is high

On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner announced he will resign at the end of October.

Photo: Associated Press The Export-Import Bank building in Washington D.C.

With John Boehner stepping away from the negotiating table, the chances increase for a December government shutdown and a permanent shuttering of the Export-Import Bank.

Other question marks: Will Congress and the White House be able to agree on new federal borrowing authority and revise the way the U.S. pays for the upkeep of roads and bridges.

The immediate shutdown threat may have passed, since Mr. Boehner, a core group of House Republicans, House Democrats and a Senate majority appear to be in agreement on a stopgap bill to carry the government from Oct. 1 through Dec. 11.

Mr. Boehner told reporters he plans to get as much done as he can before he leaves. President Barack Obama said he hoped Mr. Boehner would try to get as much done as possible in the next month and pledged to help him do that.

What happens to the government in December will be determined by Mr. Boehner’s successor.

If House Republicans choose a new speaker who favors more confrontations with the White House, the outcome could be either a partial government shutdown or a full-year stopgap spending bill—an option that the Defense Department, in particular, opposes unless the measure is written to allow new programs to begin.

Whoever gets the speaker’s gavel may feel obliged to promise the conservative wing of the party a willingness to go all the way to a shutdown to achieve goals such as ending funding for Planned Parenthood.

For years, there has been speculation that Mr. Boehner would strike a grand compromise with Obama and the Democrats and then resign. The first part of that—a push for a grand bargain on tax and entitlement spending, as he tried to negotiate in 2011—is probably out of reach given the proximity of the next elections.

More in realm of possibility before Boehner leaves is a smaller agreement, perhaps on the debt ceiling and reviving the Export-Import Bank. If not, all bets are off.

Here are some of the deadlines to watch during the House leadership transition:

EX-IM: The charter for the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. was allowed to lapse on June 30. Some Republicans and small- government groups oppose reauthorization, saying Ex-Im benefits only a few large corporations and that its activities should be left to the private sector. Boehner backed the Ex-Im’s renewal.

Two key decision-makers, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, are Ex-Im opponents.

OPIC: The Overseas Private Investment Corp.’s authorization runs through Sept. 30. Republicans have been divided over whether the loan-guarantee agency should continue. Last year, 116 House Republicans voted against reauthorization.

DEBT LIMIT: The Treasury Department has been using so- called “extraordinary measures” to juggle the government’s cash flow. Secretary Jacob Lew has said that borrowing authority needs to be raised before late October or else the U.S. could default on its obligations.

In 2011, the government was pushed to the brink of default in a dispute over a debt-limit extension.

HIGHWAY BILL: Highway, transit and road safety programs are currently authorized only through Oct. 29. Lack of action could cause programs financed through the the Highway Trust Fund to shut down, partially or completely. The chief complication is that the fuel taxes that provide the bulk of Highway Trust Fund revenue haven’t been increased in more than two decades and haven’t kept up with growing infrastructure needs, better fuel efficiency and changing driving patterns.

Agreement on sustainable funding streams—such as shifting to a vehicle-miles-traveled system—has been difficult, and leading House Republicans have discussed using corporate tax changes to fund a long-term bill, though so far no plan has been unveiled.

TAX BREAKS, NUTRITION: The race to be speaker — and a possibly more contentious battle for the majority leader spot — could determine the ability of Congress to renew dozens of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2014 and to come to a compromise on reauthorizing $30 billion in nutrition programs that expire Sept. 30.

Main Street awaits fate of Ex-Im Bank, key lender

Mary Howe, president of Howe Corp. in Chicago, relies on the Export-Import Bank of the United States for credit insurance.

Lawrence Collins
Mary Howe, president of Howe Corp. in Chicago, relies on the Export-Import Bank of the United States for credit insurance.

The fate of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a key lender for many small companies that do business overseas, again hangs in the balance.

The bank’s fund runs out Sept. 30. While the bank’s charter technically expired June 30, it continues to service loans with terms of up to 18 years. Adding to the drama, the U.S. government could potentially shutdown Oct. 1 if a budget agreement is not reached. However, the bank’s reauthorization is not directly tied to the federal budget process.

Known as “Ex-Im” for short, the bank is a financial lifeline and safety net for many small businesses that export goods in foreign markets than can be risky. The bank provides loans and insurance to support exports. President Barack Obama has been a vocal supporter of renewing Ex-Im’s funding, calling the move a “no brainer” over the summer.

For small business owners such as Mary Howe, the potential closure could reduce her access to working capital. Howe’s family business, Howe Corp. in Chicago, exports up to 40 percent of its industrial refrigeration equipment to places including Central America and Canada.

And if the Ex-Im Bank’s funding isn’t renewed? “Our backup plan is to self-fund; it’s going to get tight,” Howe said.

Read MoreBattle lines drawn over Export-Import Bank renewal

The Senate voted in July to fund Ex-Im as part of a longer-term highway bill, which has since moved to the House for consideration.

The vote in the U.S. Senate on the bill was a strong signal of bipartisan support for the Ex-Im bank and “businesses and workers that we have empowered in the past to grow their exports,” the bank’s Chairman Fred P. Hochberg said in an email statement to CNBC. Ex-Im Bank has been funded for some 80 years.

Since Ex-Im’s charter expired in June, it has not been able to make or guarantee any new loans, or extend insurance, partly due to congressional disagreement over who receives funding from the bank. The financial institution did $20.5 billion in financing last year.

Ex-Im Bank’s small-business authorizations in fiscal year 2014 were more than $5 billion, as measured by total dollar volume, which is nearly 25 percent of the total-dollar volume of overall authorizations.

The bank approved more than 3,300 small-business authorizations, nearly 90 percent of the total number of Ex-Im Bank authorizations.

The remaining $15.5 billion supports exports at other big corporations—including General Electric, which announced last week it would move about 500 U.S. jobs overseas to avoid losing business to foreign competitors, due to uncertainty about the bank’s charter. GE says 400 of the 500 positions will now be based at its facility in France, dependent on the company’s winning bids. The additional 100 jobs currently are in Texas, but will move to Hungary and China.

“Our customers rely on export credit agencies, like U.S. Ex-Im, to finance their critical power projects,” said Jeff Connelly, vice president of supply chain at GE Power & Water, in prepared remarks.

But critics, including House Financial Services Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, see the bank as a form of corporate welfare. “Most of this goes to very successful, well-heeled companies that don’t need the help in the first place,” Hensarling told CNBC over the summer.

Export-Import bank

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Still, the future of the bank is a “huge issue” for small companies, according to Morrison Textile Machinery Co. in Fort Lawn, South Carolina. President Jay White says Ex-Im allows the company, which designs, manufactures and installs textile machinery globally, to insure its overseas business on a rolling basis.

“If I can’t get Ex-Im insurance, I am taking on credit risk myself—the profit on my job would be eaten up if I get commercial credit insurance,” White says. “This overseas credit support is very important to my business,” he says.

And while Ex-Im Bank’s charter technically has expired, it will remain operational through the end of the month and continues to service existing loans. The bank’s funding lapse coincides with a potential government shutdown if a congressional continuing resolution is not passed to keep the government operational.

Read MoreEntrepreneuers who do biz overseas await bank’s future

(Tea Party) Republican Job Killers and the Export-Import Bank

You know things are bad, when I have to cite a left leaning newspaper such as the NY Times, as an information source bashing Republican Party.  Yet, the author of the OP-ED below, does make some valid points.  Rather than go into additional explanations on this issue, I simply would like to pose a few questions to let the readers think and decide for themselves. These questions will address both pros and cons of the issue. Answers will be published in the next post.

  • There are overwhelming votes in both the House and the Senate to pass the Ex-Im reauthorization, yet a hand-full of congressmen from the Tea Party is blocking the reauthorization bill in the committee. What does this say about our Democratic process?
  • Whose interests are these Tea partiers serving?
  • Why can’t large companies such as Boeing and GE finance exports themselves rather than lose orders?
  • What would be an estimated annual impact of the Ex-Im shutdown?
  • Since US Ex-Im financing represents less than two percent of annual US exports, why do we care if the Bank goes away?

Republican Job Killers and the Export-Import Bank

Joe Nocera, NY Times OP-ED COLUMNIST

“At a time when we want to compete around the world, it is hard to believe what is happening in the U.S. Congress,” said Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric.

“The ultimate irony is that we are on the verge of an American manufacturing renaissance,” bemoaned Jim McNerney, the chairman of Boeing. “Yet this action is causing companies to start looking outside the U.S. instead.”

“People complain that the bank only helps big companies,” said Doug Oberhelman, the chairman and C.E.O. of Caterpillar. “A lot of our suppliers are small. They don’t export, but we do. And if we aren’t exporting, they aren’t selling to us.” He added, “I find it staggering that we would put highly paid export-oriented jobs at risk.”

What Oberhelman finds “staggering,” Immelt finds “hard to believe” and McNerney finds ironic is the refusal of Republican extremists — led by the House Financial Services Committee’s chairman, Jeb Hensarling — to allow a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a vote that would pass in a landslide. The Ex-Im Bank, which insures and sometimes finances export sales, had to stop making deals at the end of June, when its reauthorization deadline came and went.

Although the Ex-Im Bank still exists, it has been reduced these days to managing its portfolio, rather than underwriting or insuring new deals. According to Boeing, its foreign rival Airbus, which can tap not one but three export credit agencies, is spreading the word to potential aircraft customers that Boeing can no longer compete when bids require sovereign insurance. That is hardly the only such example.

The damage this is doing to our economy is starting to become clear. In recent weeks, Boeing, America’s largest exporter in dollar volume, made two sobering announcements: first, that Asia Broadcast Satellite canceled an $85 million satellite contract expressly because there was no Ex-Im support. (Boeing is hoping to renegotiate.) More recently, Kacific, a Singapore-based satellite company, told Boeing not to bother bidding on a satellite contract, again because of a lack of Ex-Im financing.

As a result, McNerney told me, “layoffs in the hundreds” have taken place in Boeing’s satellite division.

This week, it was G.E.’s turn to make Ex-Im-related news. First, it said it would move 400 jobs to France to manufacture — and export — gas turbines, and 100 final assembly jobs to Hungary and China. Then it said it would create a new turboprop center in Europe that would employ up to 1,000 people. In both cases, G.E. said the moves would allow the company to take advantage of European export credit agencies.

When I spoke to Immelt, McNerney and Oberhelman, whose company also uses the agency, they all sounded astonished that this important tool, which they need to compete with companies abroad, was being taken away for purely ideological reasons.

“If no other country had export financing, that would be one thing,” said Immelt. “But that’s not where the world is. What you are really doing is helping Siemens and China Rail” — companies that rely heavily on their countries’ export financing.  Immelt told me that G.E. currently has $11 billion in potential deals that require export credit agency financing. That’s real money, even for General Electric.

McNerney pointed out that many big deals require export financing for the bid to even be considered. He also noted, ominously, that 10 to 15 percent of Boeing’s aircraft exports are dependent on Ex-Im support. Losing that business would be devastating for the company, and its employees.

When asked about the accusation from the right that the Ex-Im Bank is a classic case of government picking winners and losers, Oberhelman said that “if this doesn’t change, we’re all going to be losers.”

The anti-Ex-Im Bank faction is having a glorious time mocking the G.E. and Boeing announcements. A spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the conservative think tank leading the charge, described G.E.’s moves as “multinational crony capitalism.” Hensarling issued a statement claiming Boeing could finance the satellite deals itself to prevent layoffs; “it just chooses not to.”

And an unidentified financial services committee staffer told Politico that the loss of 500 G.E. jobs was a drop in the bucket for a company that employs 136,000 people in the U.S.

That heartless quote reminded me of an anecdote in “Confidence Men,” Ron Suskind’s book about the Obama administration’s financial team during the president’s first term. Some of Obama’s top advisers wanted to let Chrysler fail. But in a critical meeting, Ron Bloom, a former adviser to the United Steelworkers who was a member of Obama’s Auto Task Force, said, “Mr. President, these are the reasons we can’t kill this company. The damage to these communities and people will never be undone.”

Chrysler was ultimately saved because the president’s advisers suddenly understood that it was their role to save jobs, not to sacrifice them on the altar of economic purity. What will it take for the Republicans to come to the same realization.

GE to Move Turbine Jobs to Europe, China Due to EXIM Bank Closure

Fluent In Foreign Business

Reuters

General Electric, GE

 (Reuters)

General Electric Co (GE) said on Tuesday that it will move 500 U.S. power turbine manufacturing jobs to Europe and China because it can no longer access U.S. Export-Import Bank financing after Congress allowed the agency’s charter to lapse in June.

GE said that France’s COFACE export agency has agreed to support some of the industrial giant’s global power project bids with a new line of credit in exchange for moving production of 50-hertz heavy duty gas turbines to Belfort, France, along with 400 jobs. GE also said in a statement that 100 additional jobs will move from the United States to Hungary and China.

The company said it is now bidding on $11 billion worth of international power projects that require export credit agency financing, including some in Indonesia.

The U.S. jobs will be moved from facilities in South Carolina, New York, Texas and Maine…

View original post 312 more words

GE to Move Turbine Jobs to Europe, China Due to EXIM Bank Closure

Reuters

General Electric, GE

 (Reuters)

General Electric Co (GE) said on Tuesday that it will move 500 U.S. power turbine manufacturing jobs to Europe and China because it can no longer access U.S. Export-Import Bank financing after Congress allowed the agency’s charter to lapse in June.

GE said that France’s COFACE export agency has agreed to support some of the industrial giant’s global power project bids with a new line of credit in exchange for moving production of 50-hertz heavy duty gas turbines to Belfort, France, along with 400 jobs. GE also said in a statement that 100 additional jobs will move from the United States to Hungary and China.

The company said it is now bidding on $11 billion worth of international power projects that require export credit agency financing, including some in Indonesia.

The U.S. jobs will be moved from facilities in South Carolina, New York, Texas and Maine, but no U.S. facility will close, a GE spokeswoman said.

GE Vice Chairman John Rice said the company would soon announce agreements with other foreign export credit agencies to finance GE products.

“If the EXIM bank were open, it would be business as usual,” GE Vice Chairman John Rice told Reuters in a telephone interview.

 Given the bitter fight in Congress over EXIM’s future, Rice said that GE cannot afford to wait and must make other long-term financing arrangements for large industrial projects.

“If EXIM isn’t going to happen, or it’s going to be a regular fight to be reauthorized, we’ve got to make other plans,” he said.

Conservative Republicans in Congress who say that EXIM represents “corporate welfare” and “crony capitalism” successfully blocked renewal of the 81-year-old export credit agency’s charter at the end of June.

EXIM supporters have thus far been unsuccessful in attaching renewal to other legislation, but new efforts are expected to be made this autumn as Congress considers government “must-pass” agency funding, a transportation bill and an increase in the federal debt limit.

GE last year vowed to add 1,000 jobs in France to gain the blessing of the French government for the U.S. conglomerate’s acquisition of the power business of France’s Alstom. GE won European regulatory approval for the deal last week, and expects it to close by the end of the year.

GE is also seeking to wring out $3 billion in cost savings as it combines with Alstom, including by reducing overlap and consolidating manufacturing operations.

In its statement, GE said the job move “reinforces the need for Congress to promptly reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank.”

Aerospace giant Boeing Co (BA) has also said it was considering moving work overseas due to uncertainty over the future of the EXIM bank.

(Additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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