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Economy in Brief

U.S. Trade Deficit Widens in August
by Gerald D. Cohen  October 4, 2019

The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services widened a bit more than expected to $54.9 billion in August from an unrevised $54.0 billion in July. The Action Economics Forecast Survey anticipated $54.6 billion. Exports rose by 0.2% (0.1% year-over-year), while imports increased 0.5% (unchanged y/y). The real (inflation-adjusted) goods trade balance widened a touch to $85.7 billion (chain-weighted 2012$) in August from $85.4 billion in July. This data suggests that the trade deficit will continue to be drag on GDP growth in the third quarter.

The nominal deficit in goods trade grew to $74.4 billion in August from $73.6 billion. Exports of goods gained 0.3% (-0.1% y/y), led by a 4.1% jump in foods, feeds and beverages (8.5% y/y). Industrial supplies increased 3.4% (-0.8% y/y) powered by an 11.3% surge in the quantity of petroleum exports (21.1% y/y) -- petroleum prices fell so the dollar-value only increased 6.8% (4.7% y/y). Autos grew 2.7% (11.2% y/y). These gains were mostly offset by a 4.8% and 3.1% drops in non-auto consumer and capital goods exports (-3.7% and -5.1% y/y respectively).

Imports of goods rose 0.5% (-1.1% y/y) in August. In contrast to exports, capital and consumer goods both experienced growth of 3.4% (-0.8% and +7.3% y/y respectively). Meanwhile, foods, feeds and beverages were down 1.2% (+2.5% y/y) while autos fell 2.4% (+1.1% y/y). Industrial supplies imports dropped 3.3% (-14.0%) as both prices and quantities of petroleum imports fell -- the quantity of petroleum imports were decreased 3.7% (-11.8% y/y).

The surplus on trade in services was little changed at $19.5 billion, though that was down from $21.6 billion twelve months earlier. The value of services exports edged up 0.1% (+0.6% y/y), Business services gained 0.4%, (3.2% y/y), tourism ticked up 0.1% in both August and from a year ago, financial and insurance rose 0.9% (-1.0% y/y), while intellectual exports declined 0.3% (-3.1% y/y). Imports of services grew 0.2% (5.2% y/y) with a 0.2% decline in tourism (+4.3% y/y) more than offset by a 0.4% gain business services (3.7% y/y).

The politically-sensitive goods trade deficit with China narrowed to 28.9 billion in August from $29.6 billion. Exports to China jumped 7.3% (+3.1% y/y) after declining in the previous two months. Imports edged down 0.1% (-13.3% y/y), the third consecutive decrease. The trade deficit with the European Union ticked down to $15.6 billion from $15.9 billion as 3.8% gain in exports (9.2% y/y) more than offset the 1.8% growth in imports (7.9% y/y).

The international trade data, including relevant data on oil prices, can be found in Haver's USECON database. Detailed figures on international trade are available in the USINT database. The expectations figures are from the Action Economics Forecast Survey, which is carried in AS1REPNA.

Foreign Trade in Goods & Services (Current $) Aug Jul Jun Aug Y/Y 2018 2017 2016
U.S. Trade Deficit ($ bil.) 54.90 54.04 55.51 54.89
(8/18)
627.68 550.12 502.98
Exports of Goods & Services (% Chg) 0.2 0.6 -1.9 0.1 6.3 6.2 -2.2
Imports of Goods & Services (% Chg) 0.5 -0.1 -1.7 0.0 7.8 6.8 -1.7
  Petroleum (% Chg) -7.7 0.3 -13.9 -23.7 20.8 27.2 -19.4
  Nonpetroleum Goods (% Chg) 1.2 -0.3 -0.9 1.3 7.5 5.5 -1.3
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