The government’s initial figures for first quarter gross domestic product (GDP) revealed that a slight sequential dip in the U.S. real trade deficit boosted inflation-adjusted growth only fractionally in early 2017. Yet the decline also resulted in the biggest positive sequential swing in trade’s contribution to quarterly growth first quarter (1.89 percentage points) since the fourth quarter of 2010 (1.95 percentage points). Nonetheless, the first quarter’s constant dollar trade deficit ($602.7 billion) was still the second biggest quarterly total since the $623.7 billion run up in the first quarter of 2008, just after the last recession officially began.
These advance first quarter figures show that all of the major categories of after-inflation exports and imports reached new quarterly records, including total goods and services exports ($2.1675 trillion), goods exports ($1.482.8 trillion), services exports ($685.8 billion), total goods and services imports ($2.7703 trillion), goods imports ($2.2797 trillion), and services imports ($488.3 billion). The cumulative growth drag created by the real trade deficit’s increase during the current, historically feeble economic recovery totaled 9.70 percent in the first quarter – down slightly from the 9.71 percent hit in the fourth quarter of 2016. This translates into $239.4 billion in lost real economic expansion. The Made in Washington trade drag – calculated from separate Census figures that isolate trade flows heavily influenced by trade policy – has been much greater. The latest data, which run through the fourth quarter of 2016, reveal it as having reached 21.67 percent, or $532.56 billion in lost growth.
Here are the trade highlights from yesterday morning’s GDP report:
>The government’s first look at first quarter U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) showed that a slight (0.38 percent) sequential dip in the inflation-adjusted trade deficit boosted the period’s modest (0.69 percent annualized) economic growth by a scant 0.07 percentage points.
>At the same time, this marginal lift resulted in the biggest positive quarterly swing in trade’s impact on economic growth (from a 1.82 percentage point reduction to that 0.07 percentage point increase, or a 1.89 percentage point shift) since the last quarter of 2010 – when trade flipped from subtracting 0.83 percentage points from real expansion to adding 1.12 percentage points (a 1.95 percentage point shift).
>The sequential decrease in the real trade deficit, from $605 billion annualized in the fourth quarter to $602.7 billion annualized in the first still left the shortfall at its second highest quarterly level since the first three months of 2008. At that time, just after the last recession officially broke out, the gap hit $623.7 billion.
>All categories of exports and imports tracked in the real GDP figures hit new quarterly records in the first quarter.
>Combined goods and services exports rose on-quarter by 1.41 percent, to $2.1675 trillion annualized. That broke the previous record of $2.1620 trillion annualized, set in the third quarter of last year.
>Goods exports alone increased by 2.01 percent, to $1.4828 trillion annualized – marginally better than the previous record of $1.4792 trillion, also set in third quarter, 2016.
>Services exports inched up by a mere 0.29 percent, to $685.8 billion annualized. That performance bested the old $684 billion record set in the first quarter of 2015.
>Total imports climbed by 1.01 percent, to $2.7703 trillion annualized – their second straight all-time high.
>Goods imports also set a second straight quarterly record, with the first quarter’s $2.2797 billion total annualized besting the fourth quarter’s by 1.10 percent.
>Services imports set their eighth straight quarterly record. The first quarter’s $488.3 billion annualized level was up 0.66 percent from the fourth quarter’s total.
>According to these new GDP figures, the trade drag on the current, historically weak, economic recovery fell slightly on a sequential basis – from 9.71 percent to 9.70 percent. That is, increase in the real trade deficit during the current expansion has reduced its cumulative growth by 239.4 billion.
>Yet the trade drag created by the Made in Washington deficit is now more than twice as great, according to the GDP data and separate figures compiled by the Census Bureau.
>This deficit strips out U.S. trade in oil (which is rarely the subject of trade deals or related policy decisions) and services (where liberalization has made relatively little progress). The growth of the remaining real non-oil goods deficit during the current recovery has slowed cumulative inflation adjusted growth by fully 21.67 percent, or $536.52 billion.