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Economy in Brief

U.S. Trade Deficit Deepens as Exports Fall in March
by Tom Moeller  May 5, 2020

• The foreign trade deficit in goods & services reversed most of its earlier improvement.

• Exports declined as growth abroad remained weak.

• Imports fell sharply with lower oil prices.

The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services increased to $44.42 billion during March from $39.81 billion in February, revised from $39.93 billion. A $44.1 billion deficit had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Exports declined 9.6% (-10.9% y/y) after a 0.3% February easing. Imports fell 6.2% (-11.9% y/y), down for the third straight month.

The trade deficit in goods deepened to $65.6 billion last month as goods exports fell 6.5% (-8.6% y/y). Auto exports declined 17.9% (-18.9% y/y) and nonauto consumer goods exports fell 5.2% (-15.6% y/y). Imports of goods fell 2.1% (-9.4% y/y). Petroleum imports fell 21.9% (-29.7% y/y) as the price of crude oil fell to $34.94 per barrel. Nonpetroleum imports eased 0.5% (-7.6% y/y). Capital goods imports rose 2.9% (-7.2% y/y) but nonauto consumer goods imports weakened 7.7% (-14.4% y/y).

The services trade surplus was little changed at $21.18 billion and has been fairly stable for a year. A 15.3% decline (-14.8% y/y) in exports reflected a 45.3% collapse (-50.1% y/y) in travel which was accompanied by a 3.9% drop (-2.0% y/y) in charges for intellectual property. Imports of services declined 21.8% (-22.2% y/y) reflecting a 63.8% weakening (-65.4% y/y) in travel imports with travel restrictions imposed as early as January 31, 2020. Intellectual property imports rose 0.2% (3.1% y/y) in March.

The goods trade deficit with China narrowed sharply to $15.5 billion (SA) in March. U.S. exports to China fell 23.8% y/y while imports fell 37.9% y/y. The trade deficit with the European Union deepened significantly to $16.9 billion (SA). Exports to the EU were off 20.5% y/y while imports weakened 11.0% y/y. The trade deficit with Japan fell to $4.6 billion (SA) as exports to Japan rose 6.7% y/y while imports from Japan fell 8.5% y/y.

The international trade data 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 $) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2019 2018 2017
U.S. Trade Deficit ($ bil.) 44.42 39.81 45.48 52.7
(3/19)
616.43 627.68 550.12
Exports of Goods & Services (% Chg) -9.6 -0.3 -0.6 -10.9 -0.1 6.3 6.2
Imports of Goods & Services (% Chg) -6.2 -2.5 -1.7 -11.9 -0.5 7.8 6.8
  Petroleum (% Chg) -21.9 -1.3 -7.8 -29.7 -14.0 20.8 27.2
  Nonpetroleum Goods (% Chg) -0.5 -2.7 -1.4 -7.6 -0.5 7.5 5.5
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