U.S. exports have fallen $156.25 billion this year, with 26 specific export categories having plunged more than $1 billion.
But four exports have bucked the trend and surged more than $1 billion.
The story they tell is the story of tomorrow’s world.
Those four exports are computer chips, machinery to make computer chips, platinum and scrap precious metal (quite possibly platinum).
They are among 284 export categories to have grown in value when comparing data through July, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data available, to the first seven months of 2019.
By way of comparison, 943 export categories have fallen in value through July, more than three times as many.
The value of U.S. computer chip exports has increased more than any other this year, up $3.79 billion. The fourth most valuable U.S. export, the percentage shipped to just two countries, Mexico and China, has increased to 48% this year from 42% last year.
For the month of July alone, the two accounted for 54% of total U.S. exports. Looking at just July and comparing it to the previous July, the increase from $976.12 million — slightly more than 25% of the total increase.
The next seven markets are all in Asia: Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Computer chips, once the province of desktop computers, are now found there as well as in laptops, tablets, cell phones, motor vehicles, household appliances, medical devices and so much more.
The value of the machines to fabricate those computer chips has increased $2.31 billion this year, topping $10 billion through July for the third time in the last four years. The exception was 2019. This year, the category ranked 14th among all U.S. exports.
Taiwan and China accounted for 48% of all U.S. exports for the 2019 calendar year. This year, through July, South Korea accounted for 29% and China remained at 24%, for a total of 53%. South Korea edged up to 30% and China to 25% for just the month of July.
As the use of computer chips has proliferated, it is not surprising that the demand to fabricate them would as well.
U.S. exports of platinum increased $1.72 billion through July, when compared to the same seven months of 2019, soaring well into record territory, at $4.37 billion. The last time platinum exports even topped $2 billion through July was more than a decade ago.
There are six platinum-group metals and it in fact two of those, palladium and rhodium, both in powder form, that are driving the surge. They both are used to limit pollution from motor vehicle exhaust systems.
Motor vehicles are one of the leading causes of damage to the ozone layer and global warming.
The price of palladium is higher than the value of gold, which is also surging. The value of rhodium is six times the value of gold.
Just under 30% was shipped to Switzerland in 2019 and another 14% to China. Through July of this year, 24% was shipped to China with another 14% each to the United Kingdom and Italy.
U.S. exports of scrap precious metal has increased $1.55 billion this year, when compared to the first seven months of 2019. The $4.21 billion total is the highest YTD total since the first seven months of 2012, when it topped $5 billion.
This category is a little more difficult to suss out from the data but includes platinum and gold.
Canada and the United Kingdom are the two top markets, with that market share increasing from 31% and 21%, respectively, for all of 2019; to 29% and 25% through July; and to 43% and 17% in the month of July alone.
Canada’s large demand for scrap precious metal would suggest at least a fair amount for motor vehicle exhaust since Canada is the nation’s second-largest supplier of motor vehicle parts after Mexico.