Trade Deficit Widened in September, with Manufactured Goods Exports Still Weak in 2013

By November 14, 2013Economy

The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis said that the U.S. trade deficit widened from $38.7 billion in August to $41.8 billion in September. This was largely the result of higher goods imports, up from $190.6 billion to $193.4 billion. Goods exports were essentially unchanged, down from $132.3 billion to $132.1 billion.

Petroleum accounted for less than one-third of the shift in the trade balance in September. Petroleum imports increased from $30.9 billion to $31.7 billion, with exports down from $12.2 billion to $11.8 billion. The result was a widening of the petroleum trade deficit from $18.6 billion to $19.8 billion. At the same time, the non-petroleum trade deficit expanded from $38.5 billion to $40.5 billion.

Looking specifically at goods exports, the largest increase in September came from foods, feeds and beverages (up $1.4 billion), with almost all of that gain stemming from soybean exports. Other major export categories were all lower. This included industrial supplies and materials (down $1.3 billion), consumer goods (down $202 million), non-automotive capital goods (down $97 million), and motor vehicles and parts (down $7 million).

Unfortunately, growth in manufactured goods exports remain frustratingly slow, a trend that we have seen all year. There were $883.1 billion in manufactured goods exports through the first nine months of 2013, up only 1.5 percent over the $869.7 billion in the same time period in 2012. This news continues to be disappointing, especially relative to the 5.7 percent growth rate experienced in all of 2012 and the 15 percent rate required to meet the President’s goal of doubling exports by 2015.

Reduced exports to the European Union account for much of the current weaknesses in  these trade figures. Year-to-date goods exports to the EU have fallen from $200.7 billion   from January to September 2012 to $195.4 billion in the same time frame in 2013, with data that is not seasonally adjusted. It is noteworthy that the pace of decline has fallen as the year has progressed and Europe’s woes have begun to stabilize, and yet, they still remain lower.

The positive news was that our goods exports to our three largest trading partners year-to-date was higher this year, albeit only modestly so. Our goods exports to Canada (up from $219.9 billion to $224.4 billion), Mexico (up from $160.3 billion to $167.5 billion), and China (up from $78.8 billion to $82.7 billion) were higher this year through September.

Chad Moutray

Chad Moutray

Chad Moutray is chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Director of the Center for Manufacturing Research for The Manufacturing Institute, where he serves as the NAM’s economic forecaster and spokesperson on economic issues. He frequently comments on current economic conditions for manufacturers through professional presentations and media interviews. He has appeared on Bloomberg, CNBC, C-SPAN, Fox Business and Fox News, among other news outlets.
Chad Moutray

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