Tags

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

This morning came the government’s second read on U.S. economic growth in the third quarter of this year, and the trade results were virtually identical with those of the first report – including on the short-term noise created by President Trump’s tariff-centric policies and foreign retaliation. (The final set of three – for now – third quarter figures will come out toward the end of next month.)

In other words, the new statistics confirmed that, earlier this year, both American exporters and importers had been rushing shipments of goods to each other’s markets in order to beat the tariffs at home and abroad that have been actually imposed or threatened. The biggest new wrinkle is that the resulting boost to the inflation-adjusted U.S. trade deficit, and the resulting trade bite from real growth taken by the trade shortfall’s quarterly increase, was a bit larger than previously estimated.

According to the new release, the price-adjusted U.S. trade deficit hit $945.8 billion on an annual basis the third quarter – 0.72 percent greater than the $939.0 billion reported in the first read on the quarter’s real gross domestic product (GDP). That means that record level reached by the deficit in the third quarter has climbed higher. The previous all-time annualized high for a quarterly constant dollar trade deficit was $932.5 billion, attained in the third quarter of 2006 – shortly before the financial crisis broke out.

Consequently, a conspicuous sign of trade-related front-running – the increase in the real trade deficit between the second and third quarters – grew as well. Pegged last month at 11.65 percent, this sequential rise now stands at 12.46 percent. Nonetheless, it remains only the second biggest such increase on record (behind the 13.18 percent trade deficit widening during the second quarter of 2010, during the current economic recovery’s early stages).

Another sign of front-running (re)appeared in the goods exports numbers. During the second quarter, these exports jumped sequentially by 3.21 percent sequentially on an annual basis – the biggest such increase since the fourth quarter of 2013’s 3.93 percent annualized surge.

In the initial read on third quarter GDP, after-inflation goods exports were judged to have dropped by 1.79 percent – the worst such performance since the 2.44 percent decrease in the first quarter of 2015. Largely as a result, the real third quarter trade deficit ballooned. This morning, this decrease was upgraded – to 2.09 percent. Hence the even larger constant dollar trade deficit number.

The pattern for merchandise imports was similar, though not identical. During the second quarter, they were essentially unchanged sequentially, but as of the third quarter’s initial read, they increased by 2.48 percent – the biggest such increase since the 3.37 percent of the fourth quarter, 2017.

This morning, that increase was revised up slightly, to 2.49 percent.

Because the third quarter price-adjusted trade deficit was revised slightly higher in this latest third quarter GDP report while the growth rate remained at 3.46 percent annualized, the trade bite from growth was revised higher, too. Estimated last month as a 1.78 percentage point subtraction from the overall real economic growth rate, it’s now judged to be 1.91 percentage points. The last time the trade bite was that size in absolute terms was the third quarter of 1985.

In relative terms, the trade bite from growth increased as well – from 51.44 percent of such growth to 55.20 percent. But that remained only its highest level since the fourth quarter of 2016. Then, a growing real trade deficit subtracted 1.32 percentage points from that period’s much slower 1.75 percent annualized inflation-adjusted growth rate (or 75.43 percent of such growth).

With a higher third quarter constant dollar trade deficit came a bigger trade drag on America’s real growth during the current, still far-from-robust economic recovery. As of the initial third quarter GDP report, the real trade deficit’s increase since the recovery began in mid-2009 subtracted $461.7 billion from cumulative economic growth. That was a 13.05 percent hit. This morning’s results, however, pushed up those figures to $468.5 billion – translating into a 13.24 percent hit. As of the final second quarter data, trade had sliced $363.7 billion from cumulative recovery growth, 10.77 percent of the total at that time.

Importantly, though, the growth lost due to the expansion of the price-adjusted Made in Washington trade deficit continues to be much greater. That’s the trade gap calculable from trade flows minus sectors not greatly affected by American trade policy or related decisions – that is, energy and services – and adjusted for inflation.

As of the second quarter, the widening of the Made in Washington deficit resulted in cumulative recovery-era growth being $502.92 percent less than it otherwise would have been had it not grown at all. That’s 14.89 percent less growth.

The latest third quarter figures? Foregone after-inflation growth worth $587.2 billion, or 16.60 percent less growth. Sobering numbers for an economy that’s pulled out most of the available conventional growth-promoting stops (years of super-easy monetary policy being followed by super-easy fiscal policy) with so-far mediocre and likely bubbly results