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Economy in Brief

U.S. Trade Deficit Hits Record in 2021
by Tom Moeller  February 8, 2022

• Petroleum imports surge last year with higher prices.

• December exports & imports increase strongly.

The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services deepened to $859.13 billion during 2021 from $676.69 billion in 2020. The increase occurred as an 18.5% rise in exports lagged a 20.5% increase in imports. During December, the deficit deepened to $80.73 billion from $79.33 billion in November, revised from $80.17 billion. A deficit of $83.0 billion had been expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey. Exports rose 1.5% (19.5% y/y) in December following a 0.3% November gain. Imports rose 1.6% (20.3% y/y) after increasing 4.6% in November.

The trade deficit in goods deepened to a record $100.47 billion in December after expanding to $97.32 billion in November. It compared to a $100.96 billion deficit in the advance report issued two weeks ago. Exports of goods rose 1.4% (20.2% y/y) after falling 1.8% in November. Auto exports surged 6.5% (-1.7% y/y) following a 2.1% decline. Nonauto consumer goods exports increased 6.0% (32.6% y/y) in December after declining 3.0% in November. Capital goods exports rose 2.0% (13.4% y/y) in December after falling 2.7% in November. Industrial supplies & materials exports improved 0.8% in December (34.0% y/y) after falling 1.5% in the prior month. Working lower were exports of foods, feeds & beverages by 7.1% (+3.9% y/y) after strong gains in the prior two months.

Imports of goods increased 2.1% in December (20.0% y/y) after rising 5.0% in November. Auto imports surged 8.4% (-6.4% y/y) after two months of strong increase. Nonauto consumer goods imports strengthened 7.8% (21.1% y/y) after rising 4.7% in November. Capital goods imports improved 3.6% in December (16.1% y/y) after edging 0.4% higher in November. To the downside, industrial supplies & materials imports fell 5.1% (+44.1% y/y) after rising 10.3% in November. Foods, feeds & beverage imports weakened 4.6% (+19.8% y/y) following a 3.4% November gain.

Petroleum imports fell 8.7% in December but increased 86.9% y/y. The monthly fall occurred with a decline in the price of crude oil to an average $69.60 per barrel from $72.33 in November. The price has risen by roughly three-quarters y/y. Nonpetroleum imports rose 3.1% in December (16.7% y/y) after a 4.7% November rise.

The real (adjusted for price changes) trade deficit in goods deepened to a record $111.2 billion (chained 2012 dollars) in December from $109.9 billion in November. Real exports of goods rose 3.2% (5.9% y/y) in December after a 2.2% November decline. Real imports of goods rose 2.3% (9.6% y/y) after a 4.0% November weakening.

The surplus of trade in services increased to $20.7 billion in December, the largest surplus since May. The surplus remained down from a high of $26.7 billion in January 2018. The value of services exports rose 2.0% in December (17.7% y/y) after a 5.3% November gain as travel exports rose 5.9% (95.1% y/y) after roughly a one-third gain in November. Service imports eased 0.7% in December (+21.7% y/y) including a 7.5% decline (+121.4% y/y) in travel imports.

The trade deficit with China widened to a seasonally adjusted $34.1 billion in December, its deepest in nine months. Exports fell 15.5% (-8.7% y/y) while imports rose 9.1% (16.6% y/y). The trade deficit with Japan deepened to $5.0 billion in December as exports fell 9.9% (+14.4% y/y) and imports rose 6.7% (0.9% y/y). The goods trade deficit with the European Union in December eased to $16.3 billion. Exports improved 2.8% (26.1% y/y) and imports fell 5.4% (+7.7% 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 in AS1REPNA.

Foreign Trade in Goods & Services (Current $) Dec Nov Oct Dec '20 2021 2020 2019
U.S. Trade Deficit ($ bil.) 80.73 79.33 66.54 65.80 859.13 676.69 576.34
Y/Y%
Exports of Goods & Services (% Chg) 1.5 0.3 8.2 19.5 18.5 -15.6 -0.4
Imports of Goods & Services (% Chg) 1.6 4.6 1.0 20.3 20.5 -9.5 -0.5
  Petroleum (% Chg) -8.7 7.8 2.5 86.9 75.2 -39.7 -14.0
  Nonpetroleum Goods (% Chg) 3.1 4.7 0.7 16.7 18.4 -3.5 -0.5
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