US: International Trade in Goods

Tue Feb 27 07:30:00 CST 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Balance $-71.3B $-72.9B to $-70.0B $-74.4B $-71.6B $-72.3B
Exports % change -2.2% 2.7% 2.5%
Imports % change -0.5% 2.5% 2.9%

Exports came back sharply in January to feed an oversized $74.4 billion goods deficit in January, in what starts off another quarter of trouble for net exports and GDP. Exports fell 2.2 percent in the month with capital goods and industrial supplies posting sharp declines and easily offsetting a sizable gain for the smaller category of consumer goods. Imports also fell but much less so, down 0.5 percent with imports of consumer goods, which on this side of the ledger is the largest category, down 2.2 percent. Imports of capital goods were also down. Today's report points to a beginning-of-the-year slowing for cross-border trade and a slowing lopsided against exports.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
The goods deficit in January is expected to narrow to a consensus -$71.3 vs -$72.3 billion in December (revised from an initial $71.6 billion). December's data, like that for November, actually pointed to very strong cross-border demand with both goods exports rising sharply and also goods imports which are by far the larger of the two. Also released with the report will be advance January data for both wholesale inventories and retail inventories which, like net exports, will also be inputs into the second estimate for fourth-quarter GDP.

The Census Bureau is now publishing an advance report on U.S. international trade in goods. The Bureau of Economic Analysis will incorporate these data into its estimates of exports and imports for the advance GDP estimates. This is expected to reduce the size of revisions to GDP growth in the second estimates.

Note that data in the advance goods report are accounted for on a census basis and can differ slightly from subsequent data in the international trade report where goods data are accounted for on a balance of payment basis to adjust for changes in ownership that can occur without goods passing into or out of the US.

Changes in the levels of imports and exports, along with the difference between the two (the trade balance), are valuable gauges of economic trends here and abroad. While these trade figures can directly impact all financial markets, they primarily affect the value of the dollar in the foreign exchange market.

Imports indicate demand for foreign goods here in the United States. Exports show foreign demand for U.S. goods. The dollar can be particularly sensitive to changes in the chronic trade deficit run by the United States, since this trade imbalance creates greater demand for foreign currencies.

Market reaction to this report is complex. Typically, the smaller the trade deficit, the more bullish it is for the dollar. Also, stronger exports are bullish for corporate earnings and the stock market. Like most economic indicators, the trade balance is subject to substantial monthly variability, especially when oil prices change.

It is also useful to examine the trend growth rates for exports and imports separately because they can deviate significantly. Trends in export activity reflect both the competitive position of American industry and the strength of domestic and foreign economic activity. U.S. exports will grow when: 1) U.S. product prices are lower than foreign product prices; 2) the value of the dollar is relatively weaker than that of foreign currencies; 3) foreign economies are growing rapidly.

Imports will increase when: 1) foreign product prices are lower than prices of domestically-produced goods; 2) the value of the dollar is stronger than that of other currencies; 3) domestic demand for goods and services is robust.