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Economy in Brief

U.S. Import Prices Unchanged in January while Export Prices Surge
by Sandy Batten  February 14, 2020

• Import prices were unchanged in January as a 2.2% m/m drop in fuel prices offset a modest rise in nonfuel prices.

• In contrast, export prices unexpectedly surged 0.7% m/m, the largest monthly increase since last March, led by a 2.0% m/m surge in agricultural prices.

Import prices were unchanged in January from December and were up 0.3% from a year earlier. The 0.3% m/m increase initially reported for December was revised down to 0.2%. The Action Economics Forecast Survey had looked for a 0.2% m/m decline in January. These figures are not seasonally adjusted and do not include import duties.

Prices of imported fuel fell 2.2% m/m (+11.3% y/y) in January, offsetting a 0.2% m/m (-0.9% y/y) rise in prices of nonfuel imports. This was only the second monthly increase in nonfuel prices in the past eleven months. Higher prices for finished goods (notably autos, 0.5% m/m)); nonfuel industrial supplies and materials (0.3% m/m); and foods, feeds, and beverages (0.5% m/m) all contributed to the January advance in nonfuel import prices.

Export prices increased 0.7% m/m (0.5% y/y), the largest increase since last March, following an unrevised 0.2% m/m decline in December. Forecasters had expected an unchanged reading for January. Prices of agricultural exports surged 2.0% m/m (3.1% y/y) after having fallen an unrevised 0.1% m/m in December. Rising prices for vegetables, soybeans, wheat, and corn in January more than offset lower prices for fruit, meat, and nuts. Prices of nonagricultural exports rose 0.7% (0.66% at two decimal places) in January and were up just 0.2% from a year ago. This is only the second monthly increase in the past nine months. In January, higher prices for nonagricultural industrial supplies and materials (1.1% m/m); finished goods (of which, autos were up 0.5% m/m); and nonagricultural foods (2.0% m/m) all contributed to the increase in nonagricultural export prices.

The price index for imports from China declined 0.2% m/m in January, after no change in December. The January decline was the largest drop since September; the index has not risen on a monthly basis since May 2018. Prices for exports to China increased 0.3% m/m in January, after having ticked up 0.1% m/m in each of the previous two months, but were down 0.2% from a year earlier.

The import and export price series can be found in Haver's USECON database. Detailed figures are available in the USINT database. The expectations figure from the Action Economics Forecast Survey is in the AS1REPNA database.

Import/Export Prices (NSA, %) Jan Dec Nov Jan Y/Y 2019 2018 2017
Imports - All Commodities 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.3 -1.3 3.1 2.9
  Fuels -2.2 2.6 2.4 11.3 -2.1 20.8 25.6
  Nonfuels 0.2 0.2 -0.1 -0.9 -1.1 1.3 1.0
Exports - All Commodities 0.7 -0.2 0.1 0.5 -0.8 3.4 2.4
  Agricultural 2.0 -0.1 2.4 3.1 -0.5 0.6 1.5
  Nonagricultural 0.7 -0.2 -0.1 0.2 -0.9 3.7 2.5
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