For the second straight time, a higher estimate of the inflation-adjusted trade deficit weakened the real U.S. growth figure for the first quarter. According to the final (for now) read for the first quarter, the constant dollar trade shortfall was $656.8 billion – higher than the $650.9 billion reported in the previous growth figure for the first quarter. And partly because this increase turned net trade into a minor (0.04 percentage point) drag on growth, the quarter’s real GDP increase was marked down from a 2.16 percent annualized improvement to 1.98 percent.
Moreover, the new after-inflation trade deficit remained the second highest such quarterly figure since the $703.2 billion recorded for the third quarter of 2007 – just before the Great Recession began. It was also slightly higher the final (for now) fourth quarter level of $653.9 billion.
As with the second GDP report for the first quarter, the quarterly records for total exports and goods exports remained intact, but declined from the levels previously reported. The after-inflation services export figure, however, came in higher (at $690.8 billion on an annual basis) – and represented a new record as well. All of the latest import figures were upgraded from their previously reported record levels – the same pattern as with the first quarter’s second GDP report. Similarly, the sequential slowdowns in the growth of total imports and goods imports were not quite as great as previously reported (76.49 percent as opposed to 79.17 percent, and 83.99 percent versus 86.21 percent, respectively). But they were still the greatest such slowdowns since the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2009, respectively. The latter date came at the depths of the Great Recession.
Trade’s substantial drag on cumulative growth during the current U.S. recovery became heavier, according to the new GDP figures – reducing real growth by 9.99 percent ($301.2 billion), not the 9.41 percent reported in the second read. This trade drag was also up from the fourth quarter’s 9.82 percent ($287.6 billion). But the much larger hit to growth from the recovery-era increase in the Made in Washington deficit (which consists of trade flows impacted greatly by U.S. trade policy) actually decreased sequentially – from 18.38 percent of that cumulative growth ($538.81 billion) to 17.37 percent ($523.88 billion).
Here are the trade highlights from Thursday morning’s final (for now) report on first quarter GDP growth from the Commerce Department:
>The Commerce Department’s final read on gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of this year revealed that America’s trade performance depressed the initially reported inflation-growth figure for the period for the second straight time.
>Partly because this latest estimate judges that the quarter’s after-inflation annualized trade gap was actually $656.8 billion rather than $650.9 billion, the period’s annualized growth figure was reduced from 2.16 percent to 1.98 percent.
>The constant dollar trade shortfall estimate was also (0.44 percent) higher than the fourth quarter of 2017’s $653.9 billion – and replaced it as the second highest such figure since the $703.2 billion during the third quarter of 2007 – just before the Great Recession began.
>Moreover, whereas the previous estimates pegged net trade as a minor contributor to growth during the first quarter (according to the second read, fueling 0.08 percentage points of the 2.16 percent real annualized growth), this final read determined that trade subtracted 0.04 percentage points from the lower 1.98 percent real annualized growth.
>As with the previous report on first quarter growth, levels of inflation-adjusted total exports and goods exports remained at record levels in the latest GDP data, but came in slightly lower than initially reported. Yet real services trade broke this pattern, as a higher export estimate lifted their new quarterly record higher.
> Real total exports are now judged to have been $2.2496 billion annualized, not the $2.2529 trillion estimated in the second first quarter read. As a result, the sequential increase on an annualized basis was 0.89 percent, not 1.04 percent.
>The new real total export total nonetheless remained the category’s fifth straight quarterly record.
>Real goods exports are now judged to have been $1.5622 trillion on an annual basis, not the $1.5696 trillion previously reported. As a result, the annualized sequential increase was 0.85 percent, not the 1.32 percent previously reported.
>But this too was a fifth straight quarterly record.
>Real services exports – the exception to the pattern – are now judged to have been $690.8 billion annualized, not the$687.4 billion previously reported. As a result, the annualized sequential increase was 0.96 percent, not 0.60 percent, and this category’s record performance improved further.
>On the import side, the pattern displayed in the previous read – quarterly records remaining intact but at lower levels – was repeated for all major categories.
>The first quarter’s total real import figure has now been revised up from $2.9038 trillion on an annual basis to $2.9065 billion. As a result, the sequential increase is now 0.79 percent, not 0.70 percent. The new total is still a second straight quarterly record.
>The goods imports total is now estimated at $2.4015 trillion annualized, up from $2.3985 trillion figure previously reported. As a result, the sequential growth is 0.65 percent, not the 0.56 percent previously reported, but the level is still a second straight quarterly record, too.
>Real services imports for the first quarter are now estimated at $503.3 billion annualized, not the $502.9 billion previously reported. As a result, their sequential growth is now 1.43 percent, not the 1.35 percent previously reported. But this new total is a record, too.
>Also as with the previous GDP report, the new figures show that both the total imports and the goods imports constant dollar sequential growth rates have experienced their biggest sequential slowdowns in years – though these slowdowns are now judged to be slightly more modest.
>Total real imports grew at a 0.79 percent quarter-to-quarter rate in the first quarter – faster than the previously reported 0.70 percent. But compared with the fourth quarter’s 3.36 percent rate, its still 76.49 percent lower – and it’s still the biggest such change since the 81.87 percent reported for the fourth quarter of 2010.
>Inflation-adjusted goods imports grew sequentially in the first quarter by 0.65 percent, not the 0.56 percent rate previously reported. But that rate was still 83.99 percent lower than the fourth quarter’s 4.06 percent – and the biggest such change since the 87.63 percent drop in the first quarter of 2009 – near the low point of the Great Recession.
>The upwardly revised first quarter real trade deficit figure increased the growth drag created by the increase in this shortfall during the current economic recovery.
>As of the previous GDP read, the real trade deficit’s widening since mid-2009 – when the current recovery began – reduced cumulative growth by 9.41 percent, or $284.6 billion.
>As of the latest GDP report, these figures have risen to 9.99 percent, and $301.2 billion.
>The new first quarter figures are also higher than the fourth quarter figures: 9.82 percent and $287.6 billion, respectively.
>The growth drag of the increase in the Made in Washington trade deficit – which focuses on the non-oil goods trade flows most heavily influenced by trade agreements and other trade policies – has been much greater during the recovery.
>The previous first quarter read pegged this growth drag at $535.09 billion – which had cut the recovery’s cumulative constant dollar GDP increase by 18.26 percent.
>The new read actually reduced the growth drag to 17.37 percent – or $523.88 billion in lost growth.
>And the new figures are also smaller than those for the fourth quarter – 18.38 percent, and $538.81 billion.