Gold is King in Utah Exports

Written by: Christopher Collard

Census Import/Export Data

The US Census recently made its import/export data free to the public. In the past it was only available with a subscription. You now only need to create an account to access the data – which is only a bit annoying. In commemoration of the liberation of the import/export data, Utah Foundation is posting this brief overview of what’s available and what you can do with it.

Unlike the Census’s Fact Finder, which has a number of predefined tables available, the import/export data is very customizable. Those of you who have used the Census’s Data Ferrett, will find that the import/export data appears to be a simplified version of this tool. Anyone who is comfortable with Excel’s pivot tables should have little trouble with analyzing the import/export data.

Breakdowns are available at the state level or customs districts in the US and at the country level for the rest of the world. The data are available by month and year from January 2002 through August 2015. The Census breaks down the data into commodities – as specific as “wrist watch batteries” – and into a variety of different valuation methods.

Utah’s Exports
Looking at Utah’s foreign export data, the state featured some phenomenal growth from 2003-2012. During this time the value of Utah’s exported goods nearly quintupled from 4 billion to 19 billion. (See Figure 1.) Although it has decreased since then (we are currently on track for about 13.6 billion) exporting industries continue to play a vital role in Utah’s economy.

Figure 1: Utah Exports

Figure1 UtahExports

*Estimated Annual total based on data from January to August
Utah’s exports are dominated by the precious metals industry (overwhelmingly gold) which accounts for an average of 44% of Utah’s exports by value. During Utah’s 2012 exporting peak, precious metals accounted for 63% of total exports. In fact, if you compare Utah’s exports (Figure 1) with the price of gold (Figure 2), you can easily see how the higher gold prices of 2011-2013 drove a large bump in the value of Utah’s exports

The fall in the price of gold from 2012 where it reached $1,700 per ounce to 2015 where it fell to just above $1,000 per ounce likely accounts for a large part of the drop since 2012. Since 2014, the amount of value exported due to gold has fallen to just below historic averages.

Figure 2: Gold Prices

Other notable industries include “electric machinery and sound & TV equipment” which accounts for an average of 11% of Utah’s exports (just over half of which is computer memory and circuitry) and “medical and surgical instruments” which comes in third averaging around 7%.

Figure 3: Utah’s Exports, Visualized

When looking at the major buyers of Utah’s exports, it is little surprise that Canada and Mexico (with their proximity, and the United Kingdom (with its historical ties) are among the top ten buyers over the past 14 years. One interesting trend, however, can be seen in the Figure 3 map (especially if you zoom out so that the map no longer shows country borders). In the early 2000s, European and Asian markets were usually balanced in Utah’s list of top buyers with four representatives each. Around 2007 there was a gentle shift toward Asia, but from 2011 on, the United Kingdom was the only European country among Utah’s top ten buyers (final data for 2015 isn’t in, but as of right now, the Netherlands might make the cut).
All in all, exports provide a lot of Utahns jobs. These wages are paid, at least in part, by individuals and companies in dozens of different countries and helps pump outside money into Utah’s economy.

However, while Utah often boasts of its diverse economy, the state’s exports are much less diverse, ranking 31st in terms of export industry diversity. Even if we were to set aside Utah’s gold exports, Utah would only move up two rankings. At the same time it is unclear how large of a concern the diversity of exports should really be when considering best routes for economic development.

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