U.S. Trade Deficit Grew in February

Imports and exports increased month-over-month in February, as did the U.S. goods and services deficit, according to Department of Commerce data released today.

The goods and services deficit grew $1.2 billion to $47.1 billion, from January to February. The February number reflects a goods deficit increase of $0.9 billion, to $64.7 billion, and a services surplus decrease of $0.3 billion, to $17.7 billion. Year-over-year, the average goods and services deficit increased $3.3 billion, or 6%.

Exports were up $1.8 billion to $178.1 billion, while imports rose $3 billion over January’s figure to $225.1 billion. The average for exports of goods and services decreased $11.7 billion from February 2015, while the average for imports decreased $8.4 billion for the same period.

“Sluggish economic growth in some of the country’s trading partners as well as the effects of dollar appreciation have weighed on real export growth over the past year or so,” said Jay Bryson, global economist with Wells Fargo in commentary on the trade data.

Consumer goods led export increases in February from January, accompanied by exports of U.S. automobiles and parts and foods, feeds and beverages, Commerce said. Meanwhile exports of industrial supplies and materials and capital goods decreased. Export services such as transportation, including freight and port services and passenger fares, decreased in February as travel increased incrementally.

“Although real exports rose 2.2% in February, which almost entirely reversed the decline in January, weak momentum in export growth coming into 2016 means that net exports likely exerted a significant drag on GDP growth in the first quarter,” Wells Fargo said.

Despite the fact that the value of imported oil is at a 13-year low—$9.9 billion in February—the total value of imports increased by $3.3 billion in February, led by consumer goods, food and capital goods. Meanwhile, imports of industrial supplies and materials and automobiles and associated parts decreased.

The U.S. deficit with China increased $1 billion to $32.1 billion in February. Exports to that nation decreased $0.3 billion to $8.4 billion—the lowest figure since June 2011—as imports increased $0.8 billion to $40.5 billion, the Commerce report finds.

The trade balance with Saudi Arabia changed in February from a deficit of $0.2 billion to a surplus of $1.3 billion as exports increased to $2.3 billion from $0.9 billion and imports decreased $0.6 billion to $1 billion. The government also reported surpluses with South and Central America ($2.7 billion), OPEC ($1.9 billion) and Brazil ($0.4 billion).

On the other side of the ledger, deficits were found with the European Union ($10.6 billion), Japan ($5.4 billion), Germany ($5.2 billion), Mexico ($5.1 billion), South Korea ($2.8 billion), India ($2.4 billion), Italy ($2.4 billion), France ($1.5 billion), Canada ($1 billion) and the U.K. ($0.5 billion).

- Nicholas Stern, NACM editorial associate

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