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Just as September’s official U.S. trade figures revealed numerous records and multi-month or year highs and lows (mainly of the bad kind), today’s October release reported its share of startling results – but mainly of the good kind. One black spot deserves mention right away, though – the country’s manufacturng trade deficit passed the $1 trillion mark for the fourth straight year. And we still have two data months left in 2021.

Still, the all-time monthly bests and similar extraordinary readings from October were nonetheless impressive. And combined with the September statistics, they make clear that the CCP Virus and government efforts to fight it are far from done distorting the U.S. and world economies. 

The chief records set were:

>Combined goods and services exports of $223.63 billion, which beat May, 2018’s previous record of $216.09 billion by 3.49 percent. Moreover, the 8.14 percent sequential improvement was the biggest since June, 2020’s 8.69 percent – which came during the strong national and global economic recoveries from the first wave of the CCP Virus and the short but sharp depression it caused.

>Total imports of $290.75 billion, which edged outthe previous month’s record of $288.23 billion by 1.06 percent.

>Goods exports, where the $158.73 billion figure exceeded the former record of $149.92 billion set in August by 5.87 percent. And the monthly increase of 11.07 percent was the biggest since March’s 10.18 percent.

>Goods imports of 242.67 billion, also the second straight all-time high, and a level that topped September’s $240.89 billion by 0.74 percent.

Another all-time best and worst came in non-oil goods trade. As known by RealityChek regulars, these trade flows deserve special attention, because they consist of exports and imports whose levels are significantly affected by trade agreements and other U.S. trade policy decisions (unlike trade in oil and services, where liberalization efforts are still at early stages at best).

The best? Non-oil goods exports climbed to an all-time high, with their $138.82 billion total standing 5.87 percent higher than the previous record of $131.12 billion set in August. Moreover, their monthly growth of 9.57 percent was the biggest such advance since the 10.65 percent increase of July, 2020 – also during that recovery from the first CCP Virus-related downturns.

The worst? Non-oil goods imports set their second straight record, coming in at $242.67 billion, or 0.74 percent higher than the September total of $240.89 billion.

And finally, when it comes to new records, imports of advanced technology products (ATP). Their $51.54 billion level also was a second straight, and surpassed September’s $50.50 billion by 2.06 percent.

But multi-month and even multi-year highs and lows abounded in the October trade report:

>The overall deficit plummeted from the record (and upwardly revised) $81.44 billion figure for September to $67.12 billion. The monthly total was the lowest since April’s $66.15 billion, and the sequential drop of 17.58 percent the greatest since April, 2015’s 18.16 percent.

>Similarly, in October, the goods deficit hit its lowest level ($83.95 billion) since November’s $86.23 billion, and the month-to-month decline of 14.33 percent (from September’s record $97.98 billion, was the biggest such drop since the 20.79 percent nosedive of February, 2009 – when the Great Recession following the global financial crisis was in its depths.

>The 11.40 percent monthly decrease in the non-oil goods deficit (the steepest fall-off since April, 2015’s 13.76 percent), brought this trade gap to its lowest level ($82.99 billion) since last November’s $85.73 billion.

October’s trade report contained some eye-popping numbers in U.S.-China goods trade, too.

>Goods exports to the People’s Republic shot up from $10.91 billion to a new record of $16.64 billion. Further, not only did this figure top the previous best (October, 2020’s $14.77 billion). But the 52.46 percent sequential jump was the biggest since the 71.04 percent recorded back in November, 1996 – when much smaller trade numbers made big percentage improvements much easier to generate.

>In addition, the U.S. goods trade deficit with China of $31.40 billion was the lowest since July’s $28.65 billion read, while the 13.99 percent monthly improvement was the biggest since the 25.19 percent figure reported for March, 2020 – when China had still shut down much of its economy due to the pandemic.

The China data also show that U.S. trade with the People’s Republic continue to perform better than U.S. trade in non-oil goods – the best global proxy for U.S. goods trade with China – and as a result, that the Trump (now Trump-Biden?) tariffs continue to work well.

For example, that 13.99 percent sequential narrowing of the U.S. goods trade gap with China in October was faster than the comparable 11.40 improvement in the non-oil goods deficit. That 52.46 percent monthly increase in goods exports to China, moreover, was nearly ten times greater than the 5.87 percent rise in non-oil goods exports.

The 1.30 percent increase in U.S. goods imports from China was nearly twice as fast as the 0.74 percent increase in America’s non-oil goods imports, but both absolute increases are modest.

And on a year-to-date basis, the U.S. goods deficit with China is still up less (13.67 percent) than the non-oil goods shortfall (16.73 percent).

On the down side, the U.S. manufacturing deficit did decline in October – by 3.32 percent, from a record $118.75 billion to $114.81 billion. But it remained astronomical by any reasonable standard.

Manufacturing exports improved on month by a healthy 10.99 percent, from $92.58 billion to $102.75 billion. But although manufacturing imports climbed by a much slower pace (2.95 percent, from $211.33 billion to $217.56 billion), they’re still more than twice as great.

Year-to-date, the 18.78 percent advance in manufacturing exports and the 19.56 percent rise in manufacturing imports has resulted in that trillion-dollar-plus manufacturing deficit ($1.083 trillion, to be precise). As of October, moreover, it’s running 18.26 percent ahead of last year’s pace.

The outlook for America’s trade flows? I’m still pretty sure that the deficits will keep rising in the near term – mainly because overall economic growth, and therefore consuming and importing are expected to stay so strong.  Longer term, though, uncertainties are still noteworthy and arguably could frustrate forecasts even more. 

After all, it’s still not clear how America’s and other governments will respond to the new Omicron variant ofthe virus (or whatever other strains come down the pike).

There’s the seemingly likely ebbing of the fiscal stimulus that’s boosted savings, and therefore purchasing and importing power, for the entire population during the pandemic period. Continued high inflation could start depressing consumer spending on its own – although less government stimulus all else equal should start restraining prices at some point.

Additionally, don’t forget the Federal Reserve, which has been prompted by faster-than-expected price increases to reduce the bond-buying program that’s provided another massive source of economic stimulus.  Is Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen right to be confident that consumer demand will stay strong nonetheless?  Beats me. 

Finally, it’s encouraging to read various claims that the global supply chain crisis is easing (e.g., here). But even if progress on this front continues and accelerates, new geopolitical threats to global commerce have emerged – especially rising tensions between China on the one hand, and the United States and most of China’s neighbors on the other, over the future of Taiwan and whether it gets decided peacefully.     

Since America’s economic growth is expected to be torrid in the final three months of this year (including, of course, October), I suspect that, despite all these questions and complications, the next few months of trade figures will worsen considerably (as I wrote last month). But the farther down the road I look, the cloudier my crystal ball gets