Trade Deficit Grows, Despite Record Decline in Oil Prices

By Jason Simpkins
Associate Editor
Money Morning

The U.S. trade deficit grew in October as both the volume of oil exports and our trade deficit with China surged to a record highs. A widening deficit means the United States will not be able to rely on trade to help pull the economy out of what may be the longest recession in the post-World War II era.

The U.S. trade deficit grew to $57.2 billion in October, a 1.1% increase from $56.5 billion in September. Imports fell 1.3% to $208.9 billion, but exports fell even further, dropping 2.2% to $151.7 billion - the lowest level since January.

On reason for the reason for the larger deficit was more lopsided trade with China. The trade gap with China increased to a record $28 billion, up from $27.8 billion in September. China last year supplanted Canada as the largest source U.S. imports. Since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has also emerged as the fastest growing major export market for U.S. products.

A record amount of oil imports also sent the deficit soaring, offsetting a significant decline in crude prices. Petroleum import prices fell 25.8%, with the average price for a barrel of crude tumbling by $15.56 a barrel to $92.02. However, that decline was negated by a record-high 70.9 million-barrel increase in oil imports. The sheer increase in the volume of imports drove the U.S. oil bill up by 3% to $37.7 billion.

Trade was also dampened by a resurgent dollar, which made U.S. products more expensive to foreign markets. The dollar surged 17% from mid-July to the end of November, reaching its highest level in three years on Nov. 21, Bloomberg reported.

"Trade is going to be a significant drag on fourth-quarter growth," Dean Maki, co-head of U.S. economic research at Barclays Capital Inc., told Bloomberg. "The slowdown in foreign demand is hitting manufacturing."

Trade added 1.1 percentage points to U.S. economic growth in the third quarter, when gross domestic product (GDP) actually shrank by 0.5%.

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