Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sorry for being late with this analysis of the federal government’s final (for now) report on economic growth in the first quarter – which came out on Thursday. Life has this stubborn habit of intruding, etc. But the results are worth considering because they show once again that, even though the intertwined economics, business, and political establishments insist otherwise, a smaller trade deficit is usually better for the domestic economy, and especially for its productive side (the key to sustainable prosperity). Here’s a somewhat abbreviated version of the highlights:

>The government’s third report on the gross domestic product (GDP) showed that the downward revision of the first quarter’s inflation-adjusted trade deficit from $600 billion to $595.6 billion boosted trade’s contribution to growth – though it wasn’t big enough to prevent overall performance from weakening sequentially.

>The previous GDP report estimated that real net trade contributed 0.13 percentage points to the first quarter’s 1.15 percent annualized price-adjusted sequential growth. Now the quarter-to-quarter narrowing of the after-inflation trade deficit added 0.23 percentage points to 1.42 percent annualized constant dollar growth.

>And the first quarter’s trade role was a stunning turnaround from the fourth quarter’s. The final results for that period show that a jump in the real trade deficit subtracted 1.82 percentage points from 2.06 percent annualized growth. That is, a worse trade performance cut inflation-adjusted growth nearly in half.

>In fact, that difference produced the biggest positive swing in trade’s pro-growth role (of 2.05 percentage points) since the first quarter of 2009 (2.15 percentage points). At that time, the economy was in the depths of the Great Recession, when the economy, and contracting at a sickening 5.4 percent annual rate.

>At the same time, the newest $595.6 billion quarterly trade gap was still the second largest since the $623.7 billion deficit registered in the first quarter of 2008, as the economy was just starting to fall into recession.

>All categories of exports and imports tracked in the real GDP figures remained at new quarterly all-time highs in the first quarter. And with the exception of services exports, all categories exceeded the results from the previous GDP report.

>Combined annualized goods and services exports in the first quarter were upgraded from their record $2.168 trillion to $2.1740 trillion – and are now judged to be 1.71 percent higher than the fourth quarter’s level. The previous quarterly all-time high had been $2.1620 trillion annualized, set in the third quarter of last year.

>The record annualized goods export total was revised up from 1.4832 trillion to $1.4904 trillion – an increase of 2.53 percent over the fourth quarter. The previous record of $1.4792 trillion was also set in third quarter, 2016.

>Services exports were revised down from $685.8 billion annualized to $685.0 billion. That amount still exceeded the fourth quarter total by 0.18 percent, and still topped the previous record of $684 billion record set in the first quarter of 2015.

>Total annualized first quarter imports were revised slightly higher, from a record $2.7679 trillion annualized to $2.7696 trillion – one percent greater than the $2.7424 trillion fourth quarter level that was the previous record.

>Goods imports also were revised up fractionally, from $2.2782 trillion to $2.2792 trillion annualized. That represented a 1.08 percent increase over the fourth quarter level of $2.2549 trillion – also the previous record.

>Services imports were reported last month at their eighth straight quarterly record., and they remained so in today’s report. The previous $487.4 billion is now judged to be $488.1 billion – a 0.62 percent sequential increase.

>According to these new GDP figures, the trade drag on the current, historically weak, economic recovery continued to shrink. Initially coming in at 9.70 percent, it was revised down to 9.32 percent last month and in the third estimate equaled 9.11 percent. The total as of the fourth quarter was 9.71 percent. The new data mean that the economy has grown by $229.3 billion less in real terms during the recovery due to the increase in the real trade deficit.

>The trade drag created by the Made in Washington deficit is still more than twice as great, according to the GDP data (which comes from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis) and separate figures compiled by the Census Bureau (another arm of Commerce). And it’s bounced back up as of the latest data from both sources.

>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 21.52 percent – slightly higher than the 21.26 percent produced by the previous set of results.

>And it mean that the growth of this policy-influenced trade deficit has cost the U.S. economy nearlyy $542 billion in cumulative inflation-adjusted production during this recovery.

Advertisements