This morning’s official data (for June) show that U.S. trade was firing on practically all cylinders that month. In addition, the shrinkage in the combined goods and services deficit to the lowest level ($79.61 billion) since last December ($78.87 billion) was clearly attributable not only or even mainly to developments holding the nation’s imports down – ranging from a slowing in American economic growth (and therefore in most consumption) to the wounds China is inflicting on its export-heavy economy due to its insanely over-the-top Zero Covid policy to separate renewed backups at U.S. ports.
Instead, it’s also happening because many exports are up (to record levels), and that’s especally impressive because the dollar is so strong (which places U.S.-origin goods and services at price disadvantages all over the world, including in their home market) and because global growth is getting so weak (which tends to dampen demand for America’s offerings). And P.S. – these rising exports encompassed more than just the U.S. natural gas and other fossil fuels in such demand due to the Ukraine war and related sanctions on Russia.
The June figures reported one important exception, though: a monthly surge in the goods trade deficit with China to its highest level since November, 2018.
The June sequential drop in the overall trade deficit of 6.23 percent, from May’s $84.91 billion, was the third straight monthly decrease – a streak that hasn’t been seen since the second half of 2019, when the shortfall dropped sequentially six consecutive times – between June and November. Even better, the May total trade gap was revised down by a healthy 0.75 percent.
The deficit in goods trade – which dominates U.S. trade flows – tumbled 4.74 percent on month from $104.43 billion to $99.48 billion, its lowest level since last November. It, too, decreased sequentially for the third straight month, the first such stretch since December, 2019 through February, 2020 – just before the CCP Virus’ arrival in force began roiling and distorting the entire U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, the longstanding surplus in trade in services – which has been hit particularly hard by pandemic-related lockdowns and more cautious consumer behavior – advanced by 1.76 percent, from May’s upwardly revised (by 0.58 percent) $19.53 billion to $19.87 billion.
Combined goods and services exports hit their fifth straight monthly high in June, rising 1.67 percent from May’s upwardly revised $256.52 billion to $260.80 billion.
Energy goods exports were indeed way up – with natural gas overseas sales jumping by 26.51 percent, fuel oil exports increasing by 8.66 percent, and miscellaneous petroleum products climbing by 3.97 percent.
But they were far from the only significant export winners. For example, machinery and equipment exports soared by 13.78 percent on month in June; of foods, feeds, and beverages exports improved by 5.81 percent; and high tech goods’ foreign sales gained 4.51 percent.
In fact, goods exports overall also reached unprecedented heights for a fifth straight month in June, rising 1.97 percent sequentially from $179.51 billion to $183.04 billion.
As for services, their foreign sales hit their third straight all-time high, growing 0.97 percent on month, from $77.01 billion to $77.76 billion.
Overall imports, as mentioned, inched down sequentially – by 0.30 percent – in June, from $341.43 billion to $340.41 billion.
Another small monthly June decrease was registered by goods imports, which sagged by 0.50 percent, from $283.94 billion to $282.52 billion.
Only services imports broke this pattern: They set their own fifth consecutive record, increasing by 0.70 percent, from $57.49 billion to $57.89 billion.
The news in manufacturing trade was good, too – but only in comparison to industry’s recent alarming performance. The sector’s chronic, mammoth trade deficit was down 1.92 percent on month in June, from $132.60 billion to $130.05 billion. But this most recent total was still the third highest ever, after March’s $142.22 billion and the May figure.
Manufacturing joined the list of June export winners, as foreign sales increased sequentially from $112.15 billion to a new record $114.78 billion.
Manufactures imports inched up by mere 0.04 percent on month in June, from $244.75 billion to $244.83 billion. But this number was the second worst on record, after March’s $256.18 billion.
All told, at the statistical midway point of the year, the manufacturing trade deficit is running 22.13 percent ($756.53 billion vs $619.42 billion) ahead of last year’s record total. As a result, it’s all but certain that the United States in 2022 will rack up its fifth straight $1 trillion-plus manufacturing trade gap.
Year-to-date manufacturing exports are up 16.26 percent – from $548 billion to $637.12 billion. But the much greater amount of manufacturing imports has risen even faster – by 19.38 percent, from $1.16742 trillion to $1.39365 trillion.
Until very recently in the pandemic period (and its possible aftermath), as noted here, domestic manufacturing output and employment have held up remarkably well despite U.S.-based industry’s ballooning trade gap. The reason, as I pointed out here, is that Americans’ demand for manufactured goods has grown so strongly that domestic producers have been able to boost output even as imports flooded in much faster.
But with domestic manufacturing output decreasing in inflation-adjusted terms in both May and June, it looks like an economy-wide U.S. slowdown is weakening this demand, and that U.S.-based industry is finally paying a price for the share of its home market that it’s been losing.
The June China trade front news was even worse than that for manufacturing. The U.S. goods deficit with the People’s Republic soared by 17.13 percent sequentially, from $31.54 billion to $36.95 billion. That level is the highest since November, 2018’s $37.69 billion, and the increase the biggest since the 20.45 percent recorded in May, 2020 – when China and the United States were making recoveries from the first CCP Virus wave.
U.S. goods exports to China slumped by 5.22 percent, from $12.32 billion to $11.68 billion, while imports popped by 10.85 percent, from $43.86 billion to $48.63 billion – the highest total since last December’s $49.53 billion.
At least as important, this bilateral goods trade deficit is now up 27.51 percent on a year-to-date basis, as opposed to the 24.34 percent increase over the same period for its closest global proxy – the U.S. non-oil goods deficit.
For most of the time since the imposition of the first China tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump in early 2018, this “Made in Washington” trade deficit (so named because by omitting services and oil trade, it tracks the U.S. trade flows most heavily influenced by U.S. trade policy) has been rising more slowly than the China goods deficit. Yet the gap, as noted in last month’s trade report, has been narrowing lately, and the June figures signal that it might be gone for the time being.
In general, though, the June trade report was a pleasant surprise given the currency and global growth headwinds mentioned above. Additional cause for some optimism: The latest official release on the size of the U.S. economy in inflation-adjusted terms told much the same story of the trade gap narrowing for the “right reasons.”
But can the trade deficit keep falling due mainly to better exports, rather than following the typical slowdown and recession pattern of shrinking mainly due to the falling exports caused by weaker demand? In other words, can the falling deficit contribute to the quality of U.S. growth rather than simply reflect a feebler economy? Those are different questions altogether.