U.S. Trade Deficit Is Wider Than Any Month or Year Since 2008

The U.S. trade deficit widened to the biggest monthly and annual levels since the last recession, underscoring the inherent friction in President Donald Trump’s goal of narrowing the gap while enjoying faster economic growth.

The deficit increased 5.3 percent in December to a larger-than- expected $53.1 billion, the widest since October 2008, as imports outpaced exports, Commerce Department data showed Tuesday. For all of 2017, the goods-and-services gap grew 12 percent to $566 billion, the biggest since 2008.

The trend may extend into this year: Solid consumer spending and business investment — assuming they hold up amid the recent stock-market rout — will fuel demand for foreign-made merchandise. While improving overseas growth and a weaker dollar bode well for exports, Trump’s efforts to seek more favorable terms with U.S. trading partners remain a work in progress, and his tax-cut legislation may cause the deficit to widen further.

One of the central themes of Trump’s presidential campaign was a pledge to level the playing field for American workers. In his first State of the Union address last week, Trump promised to “fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.” The president recently placed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, sparking concern the U.S. may prompt trade wars.

With two of Trump’s main targets, China and Mexico, the imbalances worsened in 2017. America’s merchandise-trade gap with China, the world’s second-biggest economy, widened 8.1 percent in 2017 to a record $375.2 billion.

Nafta Talks

The goods-trade deficit with southern neighbor Mexico increased 10 percent last year to $71.1 billion, the highest since 2007. The administration is currently renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, and Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the pact.

U.S. merchandise exports to China and Mexico in 2017 were the highest on record — and so were imports.

For the full year, total U.S. exports rose 5.5 percent to $2.33 trillion, while imports climbed 6.7 percent to a record $2.9 trillion. Both showed the biggest gains since 2011.

The December goods-and-services gap was wider than the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg for $52.1 billion.

Exports rose 1.8 percent to $203.4 billion in December from the previous month, led by record shipments of capital goods and gains in industrial supplies and materials. Imports advanced 2.5 percent to $256.5 billion, boosted by record U.S. purchases of consumer goods, capital goods and food products.

The monthly figures add to details for the fourth quarter, when trade was a substantial drag on the economy, and show how a widening deficit may mitigate any gains in the pace of expansion in 2018. Net exports subtracted 1.13 percentage points from gross domestic product growth, which registered an annualized rate of 2.6 percent in the October-December period.

Other Details

  • After eliminating the influence of prices, which renders the numbers used to calculate GDP, the December goods-trade deficit widened to $68.4 billion from $66.5 billion in the prior month
  • For all of 2017, the real petroleum gap of $95.9 billion was the narrowest in records going back to 2003, as real petroleum exports rose to a record high; the non-petroleum goods deficit of $740.7 billion was the widest on record
  • Exports and imports of goods account for about three-fourths of America’s total trade; the U.S. typically runs a deficit in merchandise trade and a surplus in services
  • Bloomberg

    USD/CAD Canadian Dollar Higher After Strong GDP and Persistent USD Weakness

    The Canadian dollar is higher on Wednesday after the economy accelerated its growth in November. Canadian GDP is posted monthly and showed a gain of 0.4 percent in November. The Canadian economy started 2017 with a bang which led the Bank of Canada (BoC) to raise rates twice before a slowdown in the third quarter. The two 25 basis points rate hikes, the overall strength of the economy, recovery energy prices and a soft US dollar continued to boost the loonie. In 2018 the BoC has hiked once more leaving the benchmark rate at 1.25 percent.

    The Canadian currency has enjoyed a strong start to 2018 and is more than 2 percent higher than the USD year to date. The political uncertainty in the US that delayed pro-growth policies until the end of 2017 remain. The fate of NAFTA has kept the Canadian dollar under pressure as the end of the original timeline fast approaches. The negotiations have shown little progress and with only two rounds to go, the end result could be all parties walking away empty handed. Elections in Mexico and the United States this year will further complicate negotiating in such a divisive topic as trade.


    usdcad Canadian dollar graph, January 31, 2018

    The USD/CAD lost 0.24 percent on Tuesday. The currency pair is trading at 1.2304, a four month high, after the release of the monthly gross domestic product in Canada for November. The 0.4 percent gain is the biggest gain since May 2017 and a signal that growth is back on track after a slowdown in the third quarter.

    The U.S. Federal Reserve kept its benchmark interest rate at 1.25 – 1.50 percent on Wednesday. The meeting will mark the last time for Janet Yellen as Chair of the central bank. Jerome Powell will take over next week and with no meeting scheduled for February the Fed is expected to lift rates in March to mark the start of the Powell era.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the CBC earlier that he does not think the US will pull out of NAFTA. The PM is aware that it is a possibility and his government is working on contingency plans. Also today US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that the renegotiations are far from being completed at this point. He did recognize that progress has been made, but very little of it in the hard issues.

    During his first State of the Union address President Trump mentioned that the US had entered into unfair trade deals and his goal was to turn that page on that period. Pro-growth policies were late to arrive, but after the tax reform gave Trump his first policy victory he intends to build on it by proposing a 1.5 trillion dollar infrastructure spending legislation.


    West Texas Intermediate graph

    Oil prices are recovering from a drop earlier in the session. West Texas Intermediate is trading at $64.55. The weekly US crude inventories report by there Energy Information Administration (EIA) surged by 6.8 million barrels. The forecast was a mild 100,000 barrels, but it appears the cold weather has slowed down refineries in the south resulting in the buildup. The surprise to the upside was balanced with a larger than expected drawdown of gasoline stockpiles.
    Market events to watch this week:

    Thursday, February 1
    4:30am GBP Manufacturing PMI
    10:00am USD ISM Manufacturing PMI
    Friday, February 2
    4:30am GBP Construction PMI


    *All times EST
    For a complete list of scheduled events in the forex market visit the MarketPulse Economic Calendar