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Since I keep writing that U.S. trade figures – as well as other economic data – have been and continue to be thoroughly distorted by the sudden stop-start nature of the CCP Virus-era economy, it seems time to replace my usual monthly format with one that shows just how out-of-the-ordinary trade flows have become.

The best evidence? The latest (March) monthly changes in imports reported today by the Census Bureau. Although the understandable headlines for the press coverage of this release focused on the record shortfalls in the overall trade gap ($74.45 billion) and in the goods shortfall ($91.56 billion), to me, the real story for March concerns the big, practically across-the-board jumps in American purchases from abroad – which of course also owe in part to the long-awaited easing of big (virus-related) backups in the West Coast ports through which so many goods enter the nation from Asia. (This congestion has also hampered American exports.)

So on to the March import figures. For combined goods and services, these purchases rose by 6.34 percent sequentially, to $274.45 billion. The absolute total is an all-time record, and the monthly increase the biggest since July’s 10.88 percent, when the economy was starting its first reopening phase.

Goods imports alone grew by 6.98 percent on-month in March, to $234.44 billion. That advance was also the biggest since July, when they surged by 12.31 percent. And the actual March level was the highest on record, too.

Interestingly, the import flows affected most by tariffs and other U.S. trade policy decisions – in goods other than oil – climbed a bit more slowly in March than overall goods imports: by 6.48 percent, to an all-time best (worst?) $217.69 billion. As with that non-oil goods category, the sequential rise was the fastest since July (12.18 percent), but these inflows rose only half as much.

The CCP Virus effect seems to have been especially pronounced in manufacturing. March imports of industrial goods hit a record $207.59 billion, and soared by 22.98 percent sequentially. That increase was the biggest since March, 2015 – when a 23.44 percent rise largely represented a February slump caused by harsh winter weather. By contrast, manufactures imports grew strongly last July, too – during the first economy-wide virus rebound – but by just 12.08 percent.

Within manufacturing, advanced technology imports in March, at $44.54 billion, fell short of their all-time high ($47.25 billion in October, 2018). But the sequential increase of 24.06 percent was the greatest since that weather afffected March, 2015 (24.87 percent).

March goods imports from China expanded a healthy 18.23 percent sequentially in March. But the $40.23 billion monthly total was well below record levels, too. This increase was also way less than the 59.02 percent rocket ride these purchases took in April, 2020, but that occurred when China’s economy was rebounding from its own CCP Virus lockdown. So the March figure could indicate that the Trump tariffs have started to fail.

At the same time, March goods imports from Asia-Pacific countries as a whole (a U.S. government grouping that includes China) ballooned by 25.11 percent on month – considerably faster than China’s increase, and their biggest monthly rise since that weather-affected March, 2015 (32.43 percent). That’s evidence that the Trump tariffs have indeed kept disadvantaging China.

As a result, even if the March trade figures simply extend an already lengthy string of CCP Virus-era official U.S. economic data, and say little about the economy’s fundamentals or even the effectiveness of U.S. tariffs, it still seems valuable to me to be reminded every now and then just how out-there these statistics remain.