Tags

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

Last month, I reported that the trade highlights of the first official read on U.S. economic growth in the second quarter of this year showed signs that some form of normality was returning to the nation’s international trade flows after months of unprecedented pandemic-era fluctuations. This morning, the second government estimate of the second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) came out (next month we’ll see the final version – for now), and the signs of a new normality look even stronger.

Specifically, the sequential growth of America’s inflation-adjusted trade deficit during this period was even slower than the slowish rate presented in last month’s GDP release – and using the phrase “to a crawl” seems justified in describing the pace.

That initial estiimate revealed that the real trade gap’s quarterly widening had slowed from the sizzling 31.81 percent in the third quarter of last year, when the economy was roaring back from its brief but epic CCP Virus- and lockdown-induced crash dive to just 2.69 percent between this April and June (a strong growth period itself, but nothing compared with the initial recession rebound). Today, however, the after-inflation trade shortfall’s expansion came in at just 1.71 percent for the second quarter – when real growth itself clocked in at 6.40 percent on an annual basis, not the 6.35 percent estimated last month.

The new number for the second quarter’s price-adjusted trade deficit, $1.2471 billion annualized, remains astronomical by any reasonable standard. Not only is it still the biggest such figure in absolute terms. It’s the biggest such figure in relative terms – as a share of real GDP – where it still stands at 6.44 percent. And this revised trade deficit remains the fourth straight all-time high recorded. For some more perspective, the inflation-adjusted gap is also still 47.13 percent wider than where it stood in the fourth quarter of 2019 ($847.6 billion), just before the pandemic and its effect began weakening and distorting the economy.

More encouragingly, though, the new trade deficit result is a significant improvement over the $1.2590 trillion first reported. Also on the plus side, the after-inflation trade deficit’s sequential rise cut only 0.24 percentage points from the quarter’s 6.40 percent growth at an annual rate. That is, had the second quarter deficit stayed at its first quarter level, second quarter growth would have been 6.64 percent annualized – or 3.75 percent faster.

It all adds up to the trade deficit’s best such effect on real GDP change in absolute terms since the second quarter of 2020, when the deficit’s shrinkage prevented the nearly 36 percent pandemic-produced real GDP plunge from becoming slightly worse. By contrast, in the first quarter of this year, the inflation-adjusted trade shortfall’s increase cut the 6.14 percent annualized real growth figure by 1.56 percentage point. So had there been no sequential increase at all, that quarter’s price-adjusted growth would have been 7.70 percent at annual rates – a difference of fully 25.41 percent.

The manner in which the second quarter’s constant dollar trade gap improved over the initial read was good news as well, as after-inflation exports rose faster and their import counterparts climbed more slowly than reported last month.

Rather than growing by 1.47 percent sequentially during the second quarter, total after-inflation exports were judged to have advanced by 1.60 percent. At $2.2980 trillion annualized, though, they’re still 9.98 percent lower than in the fourth quarter of 2019 – the last full quarter before the CCP Virus’ arrival. As a result, the second quarter’s real export performance was an even greater improvement over the first quarter’s 0.73 percent dip than previously thought.

Combined goods and services imports were reported up by 1.64 percent between the first and second quarters, not 1.90 percent, as originally reported. This new figure also beat the first quarter’s 2.25 percent sequential real import increase.

At the same time, the new inflation-adjusted total import figure of $3.5547 trillion annualized still represents their second straight quarterly record, and such purchases from abroad are still 4.26 percent higher than their fourth quarter, 2019 level.

Turning to goods (the vast majority of U.S. trade flows), the second GDP read for the second quarter left standing their dubious record of a fourth straight all-time high trade deficit. But as with the overall trade deficit, the new figure of $1.4014 trillion annualized was a solid improvement from the previously reported $1.4610 trillion. And as a result, the second quarter number was only marginally (0.40 percent) worse than the first quarter figure, making clear a major slowdown in this indicator’s rise as well (from 20.40 percent during last year’s super-growth third quarter).

Unfortunately, the revised second quarter real service trade figures told a story that was especially gloomy even given this sector’s well known and disproportionate virus- and lockdown-induced woes. The long-running service trade surplus is now pegged at $149.5 billion for the April-through-June period. That’s a figure lower than the $151.2 billion previously reported, and the weakest quarterly result since the $161.7 billion recorded in the third quarter of 2010, when the recovery from the 2007-2008 financial crisis and Great Recession was in its earliest stages.

Also unfortunate – and frustrating: Whatever is shown in the final (for now) second quarter GDP report, the results will be pre-Delta variant. So although today’s data shows trade normalization to be even closer than previously thought, that next set could be of limited use at best in figuring out how long it’s going to last.