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Economy in Brief

U.S. International Trade Collapses in April; Deficit Widens
by Gerald D. Cohen  May 29, 2020

• Trade deficit widens to $69.7 billion.

• A 25.2% drop in exports more than offsets the 14.3% decline in imports.

• All categories of exports and imports decreased in April.

The advance estimate of the U.S. trade deficit in goods grew to $69.67 billion in April from $64.98 in March (the March figures as well as the month-on-month and year-on-year comparisons below are based on revised data from the monthly International Trade Report; updated April figures will be released next week). The Action Economics Forecast Survey anticipated a $62.7 billion deficit.

Exports of goods plummeted 25.2% in April (-29.9% y/y), the largest month-on-month drop in since October 1971. All major categories of exports – which is the only data available in the Advance Trade report – fell, led by a record 65.9% collapse in motor vehicle exports (-70.8% y/y); data goes back to 1986. As we noted in our Industrial Production commentary, motor vehicle production plunged 71.7% in April and the auto sector utilized a record low 15.4% of its capacity. Capital goods, which vies with industrial supplies to be our largest export category fell 23.9% (-27.9% y/y). Industrial supplies were down 21.6% (-24.1% y/y), though it's not clear how much of that contraction reflected the collapse in oil prices.

Imports of goods fell 14.3% (-20.6% y/y) in April the fourth consecutive monthly decline. All categories were down, with auto imports plummeting 52.2% (-57.0% y/y). Imports of capital goods, which are an indicator of capital spending, fell 11.0% (-14.2%) while nonfood consumer goods, the second largest import category decreased 6.9% (-20.5% y/y).

The advance international trade data can be found in Haver's USECON database. The expectation figure is from the Action Economics Forecast Survey, which is in AS1REPNA.

Advance U.S. Foreign Trade in Goods (Customs Value $) Apr Mar Feb Apr Y/Y 2019 2018 2017
U.S. Trade Deficit ($ bil.) -69.67 -64.98 -58.85 -71.80
-853.23 -874.81 -793.41
Exports (% Chg) -25.2 -7.4 1.5 -29.9 -1.2 7.7 6.5
Imports (% Chg) -14.3 -2.1 -2.6 -20.6 -1.6 8.6 7.0

Note: Current month is based on Advance Trade data; Previous months reflect revised data from International Trade release.

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