The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau said that the U.S. trade deficit fell sharply from $39.33 billion in October to $34.25 billion in November. This was the smallest deficit observed since August 2009, and it was the result of rising goods exports and, more particularly, a decline in goods imports for the month. Goods exports increased from $135.61 billion to $137.07 billion (an all-time high). At the same time, goods imports dropped from $194.45 billion to $191.00 billion.
A fair share of the improved trade balance in November came from lower petroleum imports, which declined from $32.09 billion to $28.49 billion. Not surprisingly, this corresponded with reduced petroleum prices. The average cost of one barrel of West Texas intermediate crude oil decreased from $106.29 in September to $100.54 in October to $93.86 in November.
In terms of goods exports, major sectors with the largest gains in November were industrial supplies (up $707 million), non-automotive capital goods (up $336 million), and automotive vehicles and parts (up $141 million). These were somewhat offset, though, by declining exports for consumer goods (down $515 million) and foods, feeds, and beverages (down $124 million).
One consistent theme in the international trade data in 2013 has been the frustrating pace of growth for manufactured goods exports. Manufacturers exported $1.086 trillion in goods through the first 11 months of the year, a 2.0 percent increase over the $1.065 trillion exported during the same time frame in 2012. As such, there has been a clear deceleration in manufactured goods export growth, down from the 5.7 percent annual gains of 2012 and the roughly 15 percent required to meet the President’s National Export Initiative goals.
Goods exports to Europe remain lower year-to-date in 2013 relative to 2012, down from $243.74 billion through the first 11 months of 2012 to $241.40 billion in 2013. On the positive side, goods exports with Canada (up from $270.29 billion to $277.04 billion), Mexico ($277.04 billion), and China (up from $100.17 billion to $108.93 billion) have increased. Nonetheless, these gains with our three largest trading partners have been more modest than we might prefer.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.