This morning’s first official read on U.S. economic growth in the third quarter not only beat expectations. Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) expanded nicely despite potholes dug by the General Motors strike and Boeing’s ongoing safety woes.
Bad news wasn’t entirely absent, especially from a trade policy standpoint, as the overall U.S. trade gap edged up to a new record in absolute terms. But even here, mitigating circumstances can be cited – namely, foreign reluctance to purchase Boeing planes, which surely weighed on exports, and tariff front-running sparked by importers’ desire to buy products from China in particular to beat the imposition of threatened tariffs.
The third quarter’s 1.91 percent annualized increase in real GDP – the first of three near-term growth figures that will be issued – handily surpassed the latest 1.6 percent consensus of the forecasts tracked by CNBC and Moody’s Analytics. Moreover, the Boeing effect looks anything but negligible. As noted by Harvard University economist Megan Greene, the Trump administration believes that the aerospace giant’s troubles cut 0.40 percentage points from third quarter GDP, and private sector economists peg the cost at 0.25 percentage points.
The real trade deficit, however, was clearly no help. It wasn’t nearly as big a drag on inflation-adjusted growth as in the second quarter (when it subtracted 0.68 percentage points from that two percent annualized constant dollar expansion). But it still depressed the third quarter’s real growth by 0.08 percentage points – and edged up by 0.58 percent to a new record $986.4 billion on an annual basis. (The previous all-time high was the $983.0 billion level reached in the fourth quarter of 2018).
This after-inflation trade deficit as a share of the entire economy stayed virtually unchanged from quarter to quarter – at 5.16 percent. But these are the kinds of levels that haven’t been seen since late during the last, bubble-decade expansion (in the third quarter of 2007). Their only saving grace is that they’re still well off the current record of 6.10 percent of GDP, also set during that bubble decade (in the third quarter of 2005). Nonetheless, the Boeing effect shouldn’t be discounted here, either, as demonstrated in my recent RealityChek post.
As for other trade-related highlights of the new GDP report:
>Total annualized real exports increased by 0.19 percent, from $2.5175 trillion in the second quarter to $2.5222 trillion.
>Inflation-adjusted goods exports rose at a somewhat faster rate – 0.39 percent sequentially, from $1.7753 trillion to $1.7823 trillion.
>Constant dollar services exports fell on-quarter for the second straight quarter – from $748 billion annualized to $746.3 billion. That total was their lowest since the second quarter of 2017’s $740.7 billion.
>Combined after-inflation goods and services imports were up by 0.29 percent, from $3.4982 trillion annualized to $3.5085 trillion – the second highest total on record after the $3.5116 trillion record in the fourth quarter of 2018.
>Constant dollar goods imports inched up by 0.11 percent sequentially, from $2.9417 trillion annualized to $2.9450 trillion.
>Inflation-adjusted services imports rose quarter to quarter from $557.2 billion annualized to $563.2 billion. That total represents a new record, surpassing the previous all-time high of $558.1 billion set in the first quarter of this year.