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So maybe the global and especially U.S. supply chain snags of the last year are finally unraveling? That could well be a message being sent by this morning’s official release on American trade figures for November – which was dominated by huge increases in the nation’s goods imports, often to record levels.

Interestingly, though, little of this surge in goods from abroad came from China – probably reflecting some combination of the continuing effects of the Trump (and now Biden) tariffs, the ongoing semiconductor shortage that creates outsized problems for a country so reliant on electronics exports, and widespread power outages stemming from tight coal supplies.

Today’s report from the Census Bureau showed that the overall U.S. trade deficit swelled sequentially from $67.16 billion in October (the smallest since April’s $66.15 billion) to $80.17 billion. That total was the second largest ever (after September’s $81.44 billion). In addition, the 19.38 percent monthly increase was the most since July, 2020’s 19.87 percent. (The worst all-time relative month-to-month increase was 44.12 percent way back in December, 1996, when U.S. trade flows were much smaller, and therefore percentage increases much easier to generate.)

The November goods deficit of $98.99 billion was a record (topping the previous $97.83 billion all-time high of September), and the18.04 percent increase over October’s $83.86 level was the second greatest ever (after the 25.18 percent spurt of March, 2015 that resulted largely from a recovery after the previous month’s harsh winter weather).

Although November’s petroleum trade deficit more than quadrupled on month (to a still-modest $1.07 billion), the month’s shortfall in non-oil goods – the trade flows most influenced by U.S. trade policy decisions – soared by 17.06 percent, to $96.97 biillion. That total is a new record (eclipsing September’s $93.67 billion), and the increase was the biggest since the record 31.24 percent also set in March, 2015.

The roughly $13 billion absolute monthly rise in the November overall trade deficit resulted entirely (and then some) from combined goods and services imports, which were up $13.44 billion. The month’s $304.89 billion total was a second straight record (besting October’s $291.04 billion), and the 4.60 percent increase the biggest since March’s 7.18 percent. (The record relative total monthy import incease was July, 2020’s 10.58 percent.)

The story was similar in goods imports. They, too, set a second straight record, with the $254.93 billion level 5.05 percent higher than October’s previous all-time high of $242.67 billion, and the rate of increase the fastest since March’s 7.73 percent. (This record, too, was set in July 2020 – at 11.93 percent).

Continuing November’s string of consecutive all-time highs was the non-oil goods category of imports. At $232.30 billion, these purchases broke October’s previous record of $221.82 billion by 4.73 percent, a relative rise that was the fastest since March (7.12 percent). Their fastest increase came in July, 2020, too (11.88 percent). 

As indicated earlier, though, goods trade with China departed from this pattern. These imports advanced as well – but by just 0.73 percent. Their $48.39 billion level was the year’s highest, but only slightly above October’s $48.03 billion. Moreover, though elevated, these inflows fell short of the record $52.08 billion in October, 2018 – when U.S. companies were “front-running” their China purchases to bring them into the country before steep tariffs kicked in.

Moreover, the $32.32 billion goods deficit with China was far from the high for the year (September’s $36.50 billion), much less anywhere close to the monthly record ($42.89 billion, which also came in October, 2018).

So geographically speaking, where did U.S. goods deficits go up the most month-to-month in November? Among the nation’s biggest trade partners, Canada was the biggest culprit percentage-wise. America’s $6.12 billion of goods purchases from its northern neighbor were the most of 2021 and the biggest such total since September, 2008’s $7.36 billion. And the sequential leap of 60.67 percent (which, to be fair, followed a big October decline of 26.09 percent) was the fastest since January, 2021’s 74.04 percent surge.

The goods deficit with the European Union was up 28.59 percent sequentially in November to a record $20.85 billion. The increase, moreover, was the greatest since the 73.82 percent rate of March, 2020, as Europe was climbing out of its first CCP Virus wave.

And the goods gap was up by 17.74 percent with Japan to $4.16 billion. The total was the year’s second lowest (after February’s $4.02 billion) but the increase was the fastest since July’s 27.43 percent (though it followed a 23.21 percent plunge in October).

Turning to specific products, more new trade records came in the manufacturing sector. The November trade deficit for industry hit a new all-time high of $124.06 billion – a total that broke the old mark (September’s $118.75 billion) by 8.06 percent. Manufacturing exports sank sequentially in November by 4.15 percent, from $102.752 billion to $98.488 billion, and the 2.29 percent increase in manufacturing exports brought them to their second straight monthly worst – $222.553 billion.

With one month left in data year 2021, the manufacturing trade deficit stands at $1.209 trillion, and is running 11.63 percent ahead of 2020’s record rate.

Not that the records stop with manufactures. In Advanced Technology Products, imports of $52.52 billion set their third staight all-time high, and the November deficit of $21.76 billion trailed only November, 2020’s $21.90 billion in this data series’ 33-year history.

One positive all-time trade high was set in November: At $224.22 billion, total exports established their second record monthly total. But the monthly improvement was a measly 0.16 percent.

November’s $155.94 billion worth of goods exports were the second highest monthly total on record – but the level was down 1.81 percent sequentially.

The pandemic-beleaguered services sector delivered some good trade news, too. Its longstanding trade surplus remains low by historic standards, but did climb by 12.68 percent, to $18.82 billion. The increase was the fastest since the 28.08 percent recorded in September, 2004 (when services trade flows were much smaller than today’s), and the total was the best since June’s $20.33 billion.

Services exports enjoyed a strong November, too. They hit $68.27 billion, for their highest mark since the $69.12 billion reached in February, 2020 – just before the pandemic arrived in the United States and began seriously distorting its trade flows and entire economy. Further, the 4.97 percent improvement was the best since January, 2002’s 5.56 percent.

Will November prove to be the cruelest month – at least for the time being – for U.S. trade? A further removal of supply chain bottlenecks and the huge savings still amassed by American consumers say “No.” But the opposite conclusion could easily be reached by pointing to a reduction in the Federal Reserve’s economic stimulus programs, the unlikelihood of Congress approving big spending bills during this midterm election year, and still lofty inflation rates – which at some point will produce a consumer pullback.

The impact of the CCP Virus, it’s highly infectious Omicron variant, and possible future strains? Those are the $64,000 questions that trade and economic policy analysis may well find excruciatingly difficult to answer.