Saturday, January 24, 2009

U.S. Trade Deficit Graphs

by Bill McBride on 1/24/2009 08:06:00 PM

“President Obama — backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists — believes that China is manipulating its currency.”
Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner, Jan 22, 2009
I'm just thinking about some trades issues, and here a few graphs that might be helpful:

U.S. Trade Deficit Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the monthly U.S. exports and imports in dollars through November 2008 (most recent data). The recent rapid decline in foreign trade is clear. Note that a large portion of the decline in imports is related to the fall in oil prices.

Looking at port traffic data, exports and imports collapsed further in December.

U.S. Trade Deficit as Percent GDP The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit / surplus as a percent of GDP since 1960 through Q3 2008.

The trade deficit as a percent of GDP started declining in 2006, even with the rapid increase in oil prices. Now, with oil prices falling rapidly, the trade deficit as a percent of GDP will decline sharply in Q4 2008 and Q1 2009.

U.S. Trade Deficit The third graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, both with and without petroleum through November.

The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.

So, excluding petroleum, the trade deficit has been falling since early 2006.

Oil Prices This graph compares monthly U.S. spot oil prices from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) with import oil prices from the Census Bureau trade report.

Obviously the two price series track very well. This implies that import oil prices will drop sharply in the December and January reports, from $67 per barrel in November to around $37 per barrel in January.

Based on this decline in oil prices, and looking back at the third graph, the oil deficit will probably fall from around $19 billion in November to close to $10 billion in January (the actual decline depends on volumes in addition to price). All else being equal, this would push the trade deficit down to $30 billion in January.

And this brings us back to the quote at the top from Geithner. The trade deficit with China was $23 billion in November alone, and even with declining imports from China, the deficit with China will probably account for well over half of the U.S. trade deficit in January.

Just some thoughts ... For some excellent discussion of trade issues (especially with China) see Brad Setser's blog: Follow the Money

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