Here’s a heck of a way to start a blog post: On the one hand, it’s a relief to.be writing about something other than the shameful George Floyd killing and its too-often-violent aftermath, and focus on an economic issue like the latest U.S. trade figures. On the other hand, because of the CCP Virus and the deep U.S. and global recessions (and possibly worse) it’s triggered, it’s hard to make the case that the new numbers (for April) even say much of anything useful about that month, much less about how trade flows and their impact on the economy might evolve going forward.
Even less serious is the notion that they shed light on the past, present, or likely future effectivness of President Trump’s Phase One trade deal with China – which incidentally only went into effect in mid-February.
All the same, speaking of China, the month-on-month change was discouraging at least on the surface. The goods deficit nearly doubled between March and April – from $11.83 billion to $22.27 billion. The last change of that magnitude came back in April, 1989, when trade flows were orders of magnitude smaller, and therefore huge fluctuations much easier to generate. Moreover, this trade gap bounceback followed two straight months of dramatic decline that brought the shortfall to its lowest level since March, 2004.
Worth noting in this regard for additional context. On a year-to-date basis, the U.S. goods shortfall with China is down by 28.55 percent. That’s more than three times greater than the 8.17 percent decrease in the global U.S. merchandise deficit, and more than six times faster than the 4.52 shrinkage of America’s worldwide non-oil goods gap, which is a better global proxy for U.S.-China trade.
In other words, here’s clear evidence of major progress toward President Trump’s unstated but apparent goal of decoupling the U.S. and Chinese economies.
U.S. merchandise exports to the economy of the People’s Republic, which by most accounts has started recovering steadily from its own pandemic setback – did rise by 7.94 percent. But the much greater value of imports shot up by 56.88 percent. That’s the biggest percentage increase ever. In second place? The 49.92 jump back in January, 1986, when trade flows were miniscule.
Year-to-date, U.S. goods exports to China are down by 9.03 percent – a little less than overall U.S. goods exports (9.46 percent) and than overall U.S. non-oil goods exports (10.86 percent).
The comparable imports figures: America’s merchandise purchases from China are off by 23.88 percent. That’s more than twice decrease of its total goods imports (9.03 percent) and of its non-oil goods imports (8.45 percent).
In other words, here’s clear evidence that the decoupling and contraction of the bilateral deficit is taking place exactly where it should from an American standpoint – on the import side.
Some other notable takeaways from the April trade report:
>The combined goods and services trade deficit soared sequentially in April by 16.66 percent, to $49.41 billion. That’s the highest monthly total since last August’s $50.78 billion, and the biggest such rise since…March’s revised 22.11 percent.
But that revision is a story in and of itself. The originally reported $44.42 billion figure for the month is now estimated at just $42.34 billion – 4.68 percent lower. That’s an unusually big change, and indicates some major, CCP Virus-related data-gathering and analysis problems.
Year-to-date, the total trade deficit has fallen by 13.36 percent.
>Total U.S. exports took by far the biggest hit in April. plunging by 20.46 percent, from an upwardly revised $190.18 billion to $151.28 billion. That’s the lowest monthly total since the $150.01 billion recorded in April, 2010, when the last economic recovery was still young.
Moreover, the monthly nosedive was both nearly twice as bad as the old record holder of 10.19 percent set in CCP Virus- and shutdown-impacted March, and nearly doubled the previous all-time high (going back to 1992) of 5.50 percent set in September, 2001 – the month of the September 11 terror attacks.
Goods exports fell even faster – by 33.71 percent, from a downardly revised $127.72 billion to $95.52 billion. This contraction has just obliterated the previous record of 10.03 percent, from Great Recession-y December, 2008. (For comparison’s sake, goods exports declined by 5.80 percent in September, 2001).
>Combined goods and services imports were down dramatically, too, on month in April. But although an all-time high, the 13.36 percent decline — from an upwardly revised $232.52 billion to $200.69 billion – was much smaller than that for exports. In addition, it only slightly exceeded the previous monthly record of 11.58 percent, from the Great Recession month of November, 2008. Further, as with exports, the new April monthly total was also the lowest since April, 2010.
April’s monthly goods import decrease was only a bit greater – 13.62 percent, from an upwardly revised $193.74 billion to $167.35 billion. The monthly level was the lowest since November, 2010 and the rate of decrease just a hair above that of the aforementioned November, 2008.
>The longstanding and huge U.S. manufacturing trade deficit also grew sequentially in April – by 9.63 percent, from $75.08 billion to $82.31 billion..That was the biggest monthly total since October, 2019’s $92.70 billion.
Manufacturing exports sank by 30.51 percent on month in April, while the much larger value of imports was 12.78 percent lower.
Interestingly, the sequential worsening of the manufacturing trade shortfall was dominated by the country’s civilian aerospace industry – once far and away America’s trade surplus and surplus growth leader. But between March and April, this surplus tumbled by 73.21 percent, from $4.05 billion to $1.09 billion. The $2.97 billion decrease accounted for fully 41 percent of the widening of the manufacturing trade gap, and stems from the combined impact of aerospace giant Boeing’s continuing safety woes and production cutbacks, the virus-induced global recession, and its especially great impact on the travel industry.
Year-to-date, moreover, the manufacturing trade gap has narrowed by 6.62 percent, from $324.59 billion to $303.59 billion.