US: International Trade in Goods

Wed Jun 27 07:30:00 CDT 2018

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Balance $-68.8B $-69.8B to $-65.0B $-64.8B $-68.2B $-67.3B
Exports % change 2.1% -0.5% 0.2%
Imports % change 0.2% -0.5% -0.4%

Forget about tariffs and trade wars. Exports in May surged a convincing 2.1 percent to pull down the nation's goods deficit to a much lower-than-expected $64.8 billion in May. The results will add further to second-quarter GDP forecasts where high-end estimates were already approaching 5 percent.

The export gain is led by a 12.8 percent monthly jump in foods & feeds and includes a 3.7 percent gain for capital goods which are the nation's strongest exports. And consumer goods also rose, up 3.2 percent. The overall gain comes despite a 3.1 percent decline in industrial supplies, a component where swings in oil prices dominate.

Imports were nearly neutral in May, up only 0.2 percent following a 0.4 percent decline in April. Auto imports fell 1.2 percent in the month with consumer imports, which is the Achilles heel of U.S. trade, down 1.0 percent. Imports of industrial supplies, again reflecting oil prices, fell 0.7 percent. A category that shows a gain, and here perhaps a welcome one pointing to rising business investment, is imports of capital goods which jumped 3.4 percent.

This is a very healthy report and it may offer a signpost of the nation's trade performance going into a summer of cross-border discontent.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
The goods deficit is expected to widen to a consensus $68.8 billion in May vs $67.3 billion in March (revised from an initial $68.2 billion). May's report will update progress on second-quarter net exports and offer the latest on the bilateral deficit with China.

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.