(What's Left of) Our Economy, CCP Virus, Commerce Department, coronavirus, COVID 19, exports, GDP, global financial crisis, goods, Great Recession, imports, inflation-adjusted growth, real GDP, real trade deficit, recession, services, Trade, trade deficit, Wuhan virus
So many all-time and multi-year and even decade worsts revealed by the trade data revealed in the official U.S. economic growth figures released this morning! And even though these data on changes in the gross domestic product (GDP) for the third quarter of this year are pretty meaningless from an economic standpoint – because they’re so thoroughly distorted by the government-ordered shutdowns and reopenings due to the CCP Virus – they’re worth noting for the record, anyway.
But here’s something else worth noting – as with the last batch of GDP figures (the final-for-now results for the second quarter), the trade figures don’t seem to add up.
Let’s start with the records. Largely due to the strongest sequential U.S. growth on record (33.1 percent after inflation on an annualized basis), fueled by significant reopening plus massive government stimulus or relief funds (choose your own label), the quarterly inflation adjusted trade deficit hit an astounding $1.0108 trillion annualized. (The inflation-adjusted, or “real,” statistics are the ones most closely followed; therefore, unless otherwise specified, they’ll be the ones used from hereon in.)
Not only was that total a record in absolute terms. The 30.41 percent increase from the final second quarter level of $775.1 billion was the biggest since the Commerce Department began presenting trade deficit figures (as opposed to the simple export and import findings) in 2002. For context, the next greatest such jump was only 13.18 percent, between the first and second quarters of 2010.
The economy was recovering then, too – from the Great Recession that followed the global financial crisis – but that quarter’s annualized growth rate was only 3.69 percent.
As known by RealityChek regulars, the GDP reports treat increases in the trade deficit as subtractions from growth, and the third quarter’s was the worst in absolute terms (3.09 percentage points from that 33.1 percent annualized growth total) since the 3.22 percentage points sliced from growth in the third quarter of 1982. (For some reason, these data go back even further than that.)
In relative terms, though, the trade effect in 1982 couldn’t have differed more from the situation this year, as during that third quarter, the economy shrank in price-adjusted terms by 1.5 percent on an annual basis.
But those internal numbers!
According to the Commerce Department, exports in the third quarter added up to $2.1667 trillion annualized. But if you actually add the separate goods and services numbers provided, you get a sum of $2.1921 trillion. On the import side, the separate figures add up to a total of $3.2123 trillion, not the reported $3.1775 trillion. Therefore, the quarterly deficit would seem to be $1.0202 trillion, not the $1.0108 trillion presented.
As with the previous discrepancies, although this batch’s aren’t big enough to change the overall picture, they do raise some questions about the reliability of the rest of the data. So I’ll be hoping that the apparent confusion will be cleared up a month from now, when Commerce releases its second estimate for third quarter GDP – but not holding my breath.