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December Trade Deficit Up 5.3% on Higher Imports of Cellphones, Drugs and Cars

Summary:
Our trade deficit was 5.3% higher in December as the value of both our exports and our imports increased, but our imports increased by more. The Commerce Department report on our international trade in goods and services for December indicated that our seasonally adjusted goods and services trade deficit rose by .7 billion to .1 billion in December from a revised November deficit of .4 billion. The value of our December exports rose by .5 billion to 3.4 billion on a .4 billion increase to 7.5 billion in our exports of goods and a %excerpt%.1 billion increase to .9 billion in our exports of services, while the value of our imports rose .2 billion to 6.5 billion on a .0 billion increase to 0.8 billion in our imports of goods, and a %excerpt%.3 billion increase to .7

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Our trade deficit was 5.3% higher in December as the value of both our exports and our imports increased, but our imports increased by more. The Commerce Department report on our international trade in goods and services for December indicated that our seasonally adjusted goods and services trade deficit rose by $2.7 billion to $53.1 billion in December from a revised November deficit of $50.4 billion. The value of our December exports rose by $3.5 billion to $203.4 billion on a $3.4 billion increase to $137.5 billion in our exports of goods and a $0.1 billion increase to $65.9 billion in our exports of services, while the value of our imports rose $6.2 billion to $256.5 billion on a $6.0 billion increase to $210.8 billion in our imports of goods, and a $0.3 billion increase to $45.7 billion in our imports of services. The November trade deficit was revised from the originally reported $50.5 billion to $50.4 billion, while trade figures for every prior month of 2017 were also revised, meaning that previously published quarter over quarter figures for GDP will have to be revised as well.  Export prices were on average 0.1% lower in December, so our real December exports would be more than the nominal value by that percentage, while import prices were 0.1% higher, meaning real imports were smaller than the nominal dollar values reported here by that percentage.

After the aforementioned revisions, our exports totaled $2,329.3 billion in 2017, up by $121.2 billion from 2016, while our imports totaled $2,895.3 billion, up by $182.5 billion from 2016.  The increase in the 2017 trade deficit included an increase in the goods deficit of $57.5 billion or 7.6 percent to $810.0 billion and a decrease in the services surplus of $3.7 billion or 1.5 percent to $244.0 billion.  Our exports of goods increased by $95.7 billion to $1,551.4 billion, led by a $66,411 million increase to $462,848 million in our exports of industrial supplies and materials, including a $12,402 million increase in our exports of crude oil, a $8,568 million increase in our exports of fuel oil, a $8,730 million increase in our exports of other petroleum products, and a $5,982 million increase in our exports of natural gas liquids.  Our imports of goods increased by $153.2 billion to $2,361.5 billion in 2017, with our imports of industrial supplies and materials up $64,284 million to $507,598 million on a $31,020 million increase in our imports of crude oil, and with our imports of capital goods up by $50,680 million to $640,648 million, and with our imports of consumer goods up by $18,640 million to $602,201 million, led by a $9,460 million increase in our imports of cellphones.

The $3.4 billion increase in our December exports of goods came by way of greater exports of industrial supplies and materials, capital goods, and foods, feeds and beverages. Referencing the Full Release and Tables for December (pdf), in Exhibit 7 we find that our exports of industrial supplies and materials rose by $1,545 million to $42,812 million on a $214 million increase in our exports of organic chemicals and greater exports of energy goods including fuel oil, coal and natural gas liquids, while our exports of capital goods rose by $1,164 million to $47,443 million on a $784 million increase in our exports of civilian aircraft and a $676 million increase in our exports of industrial machines other than those itemized separately.   In addition, our exports of foods, feeds and beverages rose by $448 million to $10,847 million on smaller increases in a large number of items, and our exports of other goods not categorized by end use rose by $517 million to $5,749 million.  Slightly offsetting the increases in those export categories, our exports of consumer goods fell by $208 million to $16,738 million on a $299 million decrease in our exports of art, antiques and other collectibles, and our exports of automotive vehicles, parts, and engines fell by $75 million to $13,416 million...

Exhibit 8 in the Full Release and Tables gives us seasonally adjusted details on our goods imports and shows our imports of all major end use categories increased in December, led by greater imports of consumer goods and passenger cars.  Our imports of consumer goods rose by $3,212 million to $55,495 million on a $1,717 million increase in our imports of cellphones and a $1,820 million increase in our imports of pharmaceutical preparations, while our imports of automotive vehicles, parts and engines rose by $1,055 million to $30,916 million on a $1,149 million increase in our imports of new and used passenger cars.  In addition, our imports of industrial supplies and materials rose by $567 million to $45,308 million as our imports of organic chemicals rose by $567 million and our imports of natural gas rose by $226 million, our imports of capital goods rose by $837 million to $57,247 million on a $359 million increase in our imports of civilian aircraft and a $383 million increase in our exports of industrial machines other than those itemized separately, and our imports of foods, feeds, and beverages rose by $249 million to $11,892 million.  Only slightly offsetting those import increases, our imports of other goods not categorized by end use fell by $65 million to $8405 million.

The press release gives us details on our balance of trade with selected countries: The December figures show surpluses, in billions of dollars, with South and Central America ($3.7), Hong Kong ($2.5), Brazil ($1.1), Singapore ($0.9), and United Kingdom ($0.3). Deficits were recorded, in billions of dollars, with China ($34.0), European Union ($17.2), Mexico ($6.1), Germany ($5.7), Japan ($5.5), Italy ($3.7), South Korea ($2.1), India ($2.1), France ($2.1), Taiwan ($1.6), Canada ($1.4), Saudi Arabia ($0.6), and OPEC ($0.5).

  • The deficit with the European Union increased $3.8 billion to $17.2 billion in December.  Exports increased $1.2 billion to $25.1 billion and imports increased $4.9 billion to $42.3 billion.
  • The deficit with China increased $0.6 billion to $34.0 billion in December. Exports increased $1.1 billion to $11.9 billion and imports increased $1.7 billion to $45.9 billion.

In the advance report on 4th quarter GDP of two weeks ago, our December trade deficit was estimated based on the sketchy Advance Report on our International Trade in Goods which was released just before the GDP release.  That report estimated that our seasonally adjusted December goods trade deficit was at $71.6 million on a Census basis, on goods exports of $137.64 billion and goods imports of $209.22 billion.  This report revises that and shows that our actual Census basis goods trade deficit in December was at $72.26 billion on adjusted goods imports of $209.26 billion and adjusted goods exports of $137.0 billion.   At the same time, the November goods trade deficit was revised down from that advance report by nearly $0.2 billion to $69.8 billion, and the October goods trade deficit was revised down by about $0.05 billion to $68.2 billion,  Those revisions from the previously published figures would suggest that the 4th quarter trade deficit in goods was roughly $0.51 billion more than was accounted for in last week's GDP report, or roughly $2.1 billion on an annualized basis, which would subtract about 0.04 percentage points from 4th quarter GDP when the 2nd estimate is released at the end of this month.

However, trade in goods for July, August, September and October, which all go into figuring the change in 4th quarter GDP, were also revised with this report as well, and since our GDP growth is a measure of the change from one quarter to the next, we'd have to adjust for changes in those months as well to get an accurate 4th quarter read.  Since that data was not revised or included in the advance report on trade in goods, to assess the changes to those months we need to compare the previously published trade details in the pdf for November's trade report to the revised numbers in the pdf for December's trade report..  Without going into too much detail or adjusting for fractional inflation factors, the total trade deficit for July was revised from $45,162 million to $45,102 million, the net trade deficit for August was revised from $44,306 million to $44,245 million, and the net trade deficit for September was revised from $44,890 million to $44,830 million.  Those revisions mean that the trade deficit in the 3rd quarter was roughly $1.8 billion less than the figure used by the 4th GDP report, or short at a annual rate of roughly $5.4 billion, and hence the change in the trade deficit from the 3rd quarter to the 4th quarter was that much greater.  Those 3rd quarter revisions would thus subtract another 0.11 percentage points from the growth of 4th quarter GDP, but the relevant changes to the 3rd quarter data, which also affect 4th quarter growth, will not be applied until the annual revision to GDP is released this summer.

(Note: the above was excerpted from my weekly economic synopsis at Marketwatch 666)

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