The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau said that the U.S. trade deficit widened slightly, up from $42.23 billion in November to $43.36 billion. The underlying data were little changed from the month before, with marginal shift in goods exports (down from $121.94 billion to $121.16 billion) and goods imports (up from $183.18 billion to $183.67 billion). The service sector trade surplus also inched up a touch, increasing from $19.02 billion to $19.16 billion. For 2015 as a whole, the trade deficit averaged $42.29 billion, which was not far from the $42.36 billion seen in 2014. Yet, the underlying data reflect some major changes behind the scenes. Goods exports were off sharply, down from an average of $136.05 billion in 2014 to $126.16 billion in 2015, and a similar trend was seen for goods imports, down from $197.84 billion to $183.48 billion.
A fair share of the reduction in goods trade over the past year can be explained by shifts in the petroleum market. Petroleum exports averaged $8.29 billion in 2015, down from $12.03 billion in 2014. Likewise, petroleum imports fell from an average of $27.83 billion in 2014 to $15.17 billion in 2015. In this latest report, the petroleum trade balance widened marginally, up from $5.46 billion to $5.93 billion. Much of the dynamics in these changes over the past year are attributable to sharply lower crude oil prices, and indeed, the average price per barrel in the December calculations ($36.60) was the lowest since January 2005. Read More