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Economy in Brief

U.S. Import and Export Prices Jump Up Again in January
by Sandy Batten  February 18, 2021

• Import prices rose 1.4% in January with fuel prices up 7.4%.

• Export prices increased 2.5%, the largest monthly increase in the series history.

• Higher prices for industrial supplies were a key driver of the increases for both export and import prices, signaling continued manufacturing recovery.

Import prices increased a larger-than-expected 1.4% m/m (0.9% y/y) in January on top of an upwardly revised 1.0% m/m gain in December (initially +0.9%). The Action Economics Forecast Survey anticipated a 1.0% m/m gain in January. Both higher fuel and nonfuel prices contributed to the increases in January and December. The 0.9% y/y increase was the first yearly increase since January 2020. Imported fuel prices posted another outsized gain in January, rising 7.4% m/m (-13.4% y/y) on top of an upwardly revised 8.1% m/m rise in December. Nonfuel prices rose 0.8% m/m (+2.5% y/y) in January, their largest monthly rise since April 2011, after a 0.4% m/m increase in December. The rise in import prices was widespread, reflecting higher prices for nonfuel industrial supplies and materials (4.2% m/m); foods, feeds, and beverages (2.1% m/m); capital goods (0.2% m/m); and automotive vehicles (0.2% m/m). Of the major end-use categories, only prices of imported consumer goods posted a monthly decline (-0.1% m/m). These figures are not seasonally adjusted and do not include import duties.

Export prices jumped up 2.5% m/m (2.3% y/y) in January, their largest monthly increase in the series dating back to 1989, on top of an upwardly revised 1.3% m/m gain in December (initially +1.1%). The Action Economics Forecast Survey anticipated only a 0.6% m/m increase in January. Both agricultural and nonagricultural prices contributed to the January gain. Agricultural prices rose 6.0% m/m (9.4% y/y), their largest monthly increase since July 2012. The 9.4% y/y rise was the largest since June 2013. Higher prices for soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, meat, fruit, vegetables, and nuts all contributed to the January advance. Prices of nonagricultural exports advanced 2.2% m/m (1.5% y/y) in January, the largest monthly increase in the series history. The January gain was driven by higher prices for nonagricultural industrial supplies and materials (6.0% m/m); capital goods (0.1% m/m); and automotive vehicles (0.3% m/m) which more than offset declining consumer goods prices (-0.7% m/m).

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 2020 2019 2018
Imports - All Commodities 1.4 1.0 0.1 0.9 -2.5 -1.3 3.1
  Fuels 7.4 8.1 4.4 -13.4 -27.8 -2.1 20.8
  Nonfuels 0.8 0.4 -0.2 2.5 0.3 -1.1 1.3
Exports - All Commodities 2.5 1.3 0.7 2.3 -2.8 -0.9 3.4
  Agricultural 6.0 0.9 3.5 9.4 -0.3 -0.4 0.6
  Nonagricultural 2.2 1.3 0.5 1.5 -3.0 -0.9 3.7
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