The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau said that the U.S. trade deficit narrowed somewhat, down from $44.58 billion in October to $42.37 billion in November. These data points mirror averages from the past two years. For instance, the year-to-date average for 2015 was $44.37 billion, which was up from the overall 2014 average of $42.36 billion. The reduced trade deficit in this latest report stemmed mostly from reduced goods imports (down from $187.18 billion to $183.48 billion), with goods exports also slightly lower (down from $123.61 billion to $122.19 billion). Meanwhile, the service sector trade surplus edged down marginally from $18.99 billion to $18.91 billion.
At least part of the decline in goods exports could be explained by a reduction in petroleum exports (down from $7.53 billion to $7.26 billion) to its lowest level since December 2010. As a result, the petroleum trade deficit increased from $4.48 billion to $5.36 billion. Still, the petroleum trade deficit has declined significantly over the course of the past year on reduced energy prices. The monthly average has decreased from $15.81 billion for all of 2014 to $6.92 billion through the first 11 months of 2015.
The overall trend in this release is the softness of international trade across-the-board. Goods exports were off for industrial supplies and materials (down $677 million) and consumer goods (down $644 million), with the volume of the former at its slowest pace since September 2010. There were very small increases for exports of automotive vehicles and parts (up $85 million) and food, feeds and beverages (up $33 million), with the latter buoyed by stronger wheat exports (up $197 million). On the imports side of the ledger, the data were mostly lower. This included reduced imports for consumer goods (down $2.95 billion), capital goods (down $597 million) and industrial supplies and materials (down $339 million).
For manufacturers, global headwinds have had a significantly negative impact on their ability to grow international demand. Manufactured goods exports totaled $1,025.32 billion year-to-date through the first 11 months of the year using non-seasonally adjusted data. This was down 6.39 percent from the $1,095.30 billion observed in the same time period last year.
This trend extends to the top four markets for U.S.-manufactured goods: Canada (down from $287.69 billion year-to-date to $259.02 billion), Mexico (down from $221.47 billion to $217.80 billion), China (down from $111.51 billion to $106.06 billion) and Japan (down from $61.05 billion to $57.71 billion). In addition, exports of manufactured goods to the Europe, our second largest region after North America, were also lower year-to-date (down from $306.83 billion to $294.73 billion).
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