The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau said that the U.S. trade deficit rose from $39.28 billion in January to $42.30 billion in February. This was the highest deficit since September, and it was the result of a decrease in goods exports (down from $133.75 billion to $131.72 billion) and an increase in service sector imports (up from $38.49 billion to $39.29 billion).
The increased goods trade deficit (up from $59.50 billion to $61.73 billion) was almost evenly distributed by petroleum and non-petroleum factors. Petroleum exports declined somewhat (down from $12.34 billion to $11.09 billion), but petroleum imports also decreased slightly (down from $31.68 billion to $31.03 billion).
Looking specifically at goods exports by sector, the February numbers were mostly lower. The exceptions were the consumer goods (up $1.19 billion) and automotive vehicles and parts (up $96 million) sectors. These gains were more than counterbalanced by lower export levels for industrial supplies and materials (down $2.67 billion), non-automotive capital goods (down $894 million), and foods, feeds and beverages (down $18 million).
Growth in manufactured goods exports continue to disappoint. Exports in the first two months of 2014 were $182.75 billion using non-seasonally adjusted data. This was down 0.6 percent from the $183.78 billion observed for January and February 2013. As such, it indicates that manufactured goods exports remain soft despite some economic progress abroad in recent months, continuing a trend that we saw last year.
In 2013, manufactured goods exports rose 2.4 percent, decelerating from the 5.7 percent annual growth rate observed in 2012. It is also well below the 15 percent rate that would be needed to double exports by 2015, as outlined in the President’s National Export Initiative. Hopefully, cautious optimism for better worldwide growth rates will produce improved manufactured goods exports moving forward.
On the positive side, goods exports to our five largest export trading partners were mostly higher year-to-date. For instance, Mexico (up from $35.61 billion to $37.50 billion), China (up from $18.69 billion to $20.24 billion), Japan (up from $10.18 billion to $10.88 billion), and Germany (up from $7.65 billion to $8.22 billion) all notched increases in exports in the first two months of this year relative to last year. The lone holdout was our largest trading partner, Canada (down from $46.35 billion to $46.15 billion), which had marginal declines.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.