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As usually the case when the U.S. government’s data keepers, in their infinite wisdom, decide to issue several sets of important statistics on the same day, I prioritized the monthly jobs report in last Friday’s blogging. After all, it may be the nation’s single most closely followed economic indicator.

But that doesn’t mean that the monthly trade figures released on the same day deserved to be overlooked. In fact, they were unusually interesting for making clearer than ever how these numbers have been thoroughly distorted this year – and for the worse, in terms of America’s trade deficits – by the CCP Virus’ impact on the U.S. and global economies. The effects were especially evident in aerospace trade, which has suffered both from the virus’ decimation of much air travel around the world, and from the lingering damage inflicted by Boeing’s safety woes.

At the same time, these distortions also both point to a big silver lining for U.S. trade and especially the country’s manufacturing sector – especially if apparent President-elect Joe Biden is smart enough to keep most of President Trump’s tariffs in place. For if these trade curbs – highly concentrated on Chinese goods – remain largely on the books, not only will the pandemic’s eventual  (vaccine-induced?) end and recent steps toward returning Boeing’s troubled 737 Max model to the air boost the huge aerospace sector tremendously. In addition, domestic industry will be able to keep making progress filling the demand gap that’s clearly been left by the absence of Chinese products in the U.S. market, and capitalizing on Beijing’s commitment under the Trump Phase One trade deal to increase its imports from the United States.

As for the new monthly trade data – which cover October – one of the biggest stories concerned the revisions of September data, which dramatically changed the overall trade deficit number, and which stemmed almost entirely from astounding new services trade figures.

October’s combined goods and services trade deficit came in at $63.12 billion, according to the Census Bureau analysts who monitor the nation’s trade flows. On the surface, that represented a 1.68 percent increase over September’s total, and continued a troubling pattern of the overall trade gap continuing to widen even though the CCP Virus and associated business and consumer restrictions keep depressing U.S. economic growth dramatically.

Indeed, the October monthly total deficit was the second highest figure recorded since July, 2008’s $66.99 billion. And on a year-to-date basis, this shortfall is now 9.50 percent bigger in 2020 than in 2019.

But that September trade gap itself was revised down from the previously reported $63.86 billion – a huge 2.79 percent adjustment. And all that revision and much, much more resulted from re-estimates of the service trade numbers – where the surplus was revised up from $16.82 billion to $18.69 billion. Even given the relative difficulty of measuring any service sector economic activity, that 11.10 percent revision is nothing less than a mind-blower.

Underscoring the virus effect on all the service sub-sectors that go into economic activity, and on the travel industry in particular, the October service surplus of $18.29 billion was a 2.17 percent sequential decline, and the smallest such figure since August, 2012’s $17.08 billion. And through the first ten months of this year, the service surplus has shrunk by 15.60 percent.

The monthly and year-to-date moves in goods trade haven’t been nearly as big. This deficit did hit $81.41 billion in October (the second largest such total ever, after August’s $83.90 billion). But the monthly increase was only 1.28 percent, and year-to-date this merchandise gap has risen by a mere 1.28 percent.

Still, it’s legitimate to ask why the goods trade gap has risen at all with the economy still exiting (however rapidly in the third quarter) its deepest downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It’s also legitimate to ask whether this increase despite a major (14.01 percent) drop in the year-to-date China goods deficit means that the Trump tariffs simply shifted this shortfall to other countries.

Given China’s burgeoning power and its growing aggressiveness around the world, the strategic benefits of such “trade diversion” to much less threatening countries shouldn’t be minimized. But in purely economic terms (which matter considerably), the Trump policies appear to be nothing more than a wash, and a disruptive one to corporate supply chains.

And this is where the aerospace sector comes in. From January-October, 2019 to the same period this year, the U.S. surplus in civilian aircraft, aircraft engines, and non-engine aircraft parts combined has plummeted by $43.48 billion. Had it simply remained at its 2019 levels, the huge, chronic U.S. manufacturing trade deficit – a major measure of domestic industry’s health as the Trump administration and many others, like me, see it – would be down on a year-to-date basis by five percent, rather than up by 3.22 percent.

As for the combined goods and services deficit, had the aerospace surplus not worsened, it would have increased by only 0.63 percent (to $493.21 billion), not 9.50 percent (to $536.69 billion). And if the services surplus remained the same rather than plunging by $37.26 billion, the year-to-date total trade deficit would look even better. In fact, the total trade gap actually would have shrunk during this period by 6.97 percent, to $455.95 billion.

Not that the Trump tariffs have solved all of U.S. manufacturing’s trade, or the nation’s overall trade woes. In October, industry still recorded its biggest monthly deficit ever ($110.20 billion) even though the aerospace surplus soared by nearly 36 percent sequentially. The big automotive and consumer electronics products deficits kept growing, and although detailed enough October data haven’t been posted yet, so, too, surely have been the shortfalls in protective and other pandemic-related medical equipment.

But the good October aerospace numbers indicate that this trade-crucial sector is already starting to reverse its fortunes, and as the pandemic subsides, the services trade surplus should return to normal levels as well. If a Biden administration keeps its promises to reshore crucial medical- and national security-related supply chains, the manufacturing trade balance will clearly benefit as well. And if, as he’s indicated he will, the former Vice President holds off on lifting the Trump China tariffs, and keeps the Phase One deal in force, domestic industry could be headed for salad days not only in trade terms, but on the production and employment fronts as well.