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Economy in Brief

U.S. Trade Deficit Slides As Imports Decline
by Tom Moeller  April 12, 2012

The U.S. foreign trade deficit in February declined to $46.0B versus a little-revised $52.5B in January. Expectations were for a deficit of $52.0B. Exports ticked up just 0.1% (9.3% y/y) but imports declined 2.7% (+7.6% y/y). In chained 2005 dollars, the overall deficit in goods eased to $44.1B, its lowest since March, 2010; real exports fell 1.0% (+7.3% y/y) but real imports declined a greater 3.9% (+1.9% y/y).

Overall exports inched up 0.1% (+9.3%) while goods exports slipped 0.4% (+9.0% y/y), -1.0% (+7.3% y/y) in real terms. Exports of autos & parts fell 6.4% (+20.2% y/y) and foods feed & beverages fell 4.7% (-5.7% y/y). Offsetting these declines was a 2.1% rise (6.6% y/y) in consumer goods exports. Capital goods exports were unchanged (+1.0% y/y). Services exports rose 1.5% (10.0% y/y). Travel exports rose 3.1% (13.0% y/y) as more individuals visited the U.S. but passenger fares fell 1.1% (+16.0% y/y).

Total imports fell 2.7% (+7.6) in February as goods imports dropped 3.2% (+7.3% y/y), -3.9% (+1.9% y/y) in real terms. The decline reflected a 6.3% drop (-7.5% y/y) in nonauto consumer goods and a 4.2% decline (+20.3% y/y) in autos & parts. Industrial supplies imports were off 2.3% (+10.2% y/y) and capital goods imports fell 1.0% (+11.5% y/y). Imports of services increased 0.7% (10.1% y/y); travel imports rose 2.5% (9.9%) as more U.S. citizens traveled abroad while passenger fares rose 3.8% (18.8% y/y).

The value of petroleum imports in February declined 17.7% (-7.7% y/y). The average cost of crude oil per barrel slipped m/m to $103.63, up from $87.17 a year earlier. During February, the quantity of energy-related petroleum imports was down 7.7% y/y.

By country, the February goods trade deficit with mainland China narrowed sharply m/m to $19.4B, its least since last March. Though they plummeted 18.1% m/m, imports from China increased 3.1% y/y to $28.1B.  U.S. exports to China rose 3.8% y/y to $8.8B. With Japan, the deficit eased m/m to $7.0B as exports rose 3.6% y/y. Imports increased 18.4% y/y. The deficit with the European Union narrowed sharply to $5.9B with a 12.6% y/y jump in exports to Europe and a 5.6% rise in imports.

The international trade data can be found in Haver's USECON database. Detailed figures are available in the USINT database. The expectations figures are from the Action Economics consensus survey, which is carried in the AS1REPN.

Foreign Trade Feb Jan Dec Y/Y 2011 2010 2009
U.S. Trade Deficit $-46.0B $52.5B $50.4B $45.4B
$560.0B $500.0B $381.3B
Exports (%) 0.1 1.5 0.4 9.3 14.6 16.7 -14.5
Imports -2.7 2.1 1.6 7.6 14.0 19.5 -23.0
 Petroleum -4.2 3.0 0.1 13.1 30.8 32.5 -44.0
 Nonpetroleum goods -3.0 1.8 2.1 5.9 12.1 20.8 -20.9
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